Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rites of Passage

When I was a girl, our library had this summer reading program. You got a card with a worm on it. The worm was divided into many sections and wore a mortar board on its head. In other words a book worm. Everytime you read a book and talked with the librarian about it, you got to color in a section of your worm.

I remember riding home from the library with my bike basket filled with books, but I particularly recall the pleasure of returning to the library to color in my worm. I have always loved those things in life that mark our passages. A section of a worm, a milestone in life, and having my passport stamped.

One day when I was fifteen and walking home from school, my mother pulled up beside me. Rolling her window down, she said, "Get in. We're going to get our passports." I had no idea why I was going to get a passport or in fact that I was going anywhere. Or had anywhere to go. However my mother had it in her head. We were going to do the grand tour of Europe where she had never been.

The passport office was one of those dingy bureaucratic places and, as my mother and I sat side by side, me still trying to figure out what we were doing, a woman walked by us. She was goose-stepping like a Nazi and, for some reason, she gave me a Heil Hitler salute, followed by a Bronx cheer. I was frightened and stupified, but my mother burst out laughing. For her it was one of the funniest things she'd ever seen. I believe in some sense our trip began there.

I got my passport and, as with my book worm, it came to me as a blank slate. A tabla rosa. The way a child is born with nothing in its brain. I loved my passport as I'd loved my worm. In Paris in the early morning as the customs offical gave me my first stamp and it made that clicking sound, I knew that I had entered new terrain. Here was the proof. The stamp in my passport. Ever since then I have loved that moment. The click, the stamp, and voila, you have crossed over. You have arrived.

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