It is frequently at the edges of things that we learn most about the middle; ice and steam can reveal more about the nature of water than water alone ever could.
When I was twenty-one, I moved two thousand miles away from anyone I knew or anyone who knew of me. I felt the urgent need to gain some perspective on my life— to get out so that I could look back in. So I went to the edges—literally. I went as far as I could go without drowning in the Pacific: Southern California. And although I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, that journey, that experience, wasn’t one of them.
Two thousand miles from home, I was forced to explore and exercise my strengths, and also to come to terms with my limitations— limitations that, once recognized and accepted, I could learn to improve or work around. Situations arose that pushed me not just physically to the edges of my endurance, but mentally to the edges of my intelligence, and spiritually to the edges of my soul. And pushing up against all those edges, I grew, I stretched. I learned where I became ice, and where vapor.
On the edges is where we learn about ourselves: Am I the type to cower before the hard edge, to give up, to run back to the comfortable center? Or am I the type to knuckle down, to figure out a way, to make it work? A person learns to survive when castaway from the environment he knows, when wandering the wilderness and wastelands of the less trodden paths. And let me tell you, not every battle is a victory out there slogging away at the borderlands of the soul. Far from it.
I learned where my breaking points were, and I learned how to heal from the breaks and become, as Hemingway said, stronger at the broken places. Sometimes I fell on my face in pain and bitter despair, and sometimes in my failure, I disappointed myself. But worse even than this was that sometimes in my successes I, of myself, was ashamed– for I had overstepped the edge and become, in order to the secure the success, something not truly my Self.
At other times, I was thankful for my failures, for sometimes a smaller failure taught me something important about the world or about myself, enabling me to avoid the larger failures later on. Sometimes I even exulted in my failures, the ones that came at the end of some long, noble struggle, for even in the heat of disappointment, I knew that the triumph lay in the trying, that losers lose, winners learn.
I think Murch is absolutely correct, that the edges teach us the middle, that when pushed to the outermost, we learn the innermost. Sometimes to see yourself in the Big Picture, you have to step back from the mirror and take a long honest look from a new perspective.
The edges are where we make contact with others, where we forge relationships, where we experience the collisions of different ideas and other ways of life, and where we discover what we thought were thick and hardened borders are but mist and shadow, ignorance and misunderstanding.
At the edges, we find The Other, and more importantly, our Selves.