Juxtapose | Juxtaposing | Juxtaposition
I remember learning this word back in Mrs. Paprocki’s English class. You remember her, right? She was the teacher that really sparked my interest in writing and gave me guidance on using words to tell a story. I remember her telling us that it wasn’t just about the word itself – it was about the meaning beyond the word.
Juxtaposition: The act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.
What did she mean “beyond the word”? Was it the extension of the way things are placed next to each other? Was it the happenstance that brings those two things together in the first place? Here we go again – Mrs. P still has me thinking about telling a story all these years later.
Juxtaposition is not really a word that I find myself using in everyday conversations. Can you remember the last time you used it in a sentence? Me neither. But a few days ago as I was walking to work with the temperature in the 20′s and snow flurries collecting in my hair, the word popped into my head like a flashing teleprompter.
By itself, snow falling on a cold January morning doesn’t qualify for juxtaposition. But when I passed by a major retail store and saw neon clothes and minimal fabric to cover the winter chill, I couldn’t help but think of juxtaposition. Perhaps it was the irony of it all – to see bright, vibrant colors while the sky was grey and heavy – that sparked the juxtaposing connection.
About a week later I found myself once again thinking of juxtaposition – yet this time it was much less in the literal sense and more so in the geographical sense. Are you following me?
Four years ago around this time, I was working in the media tents at the Presidential Inauguration. I was bundled up — multiple pairs of socks, scarves, earmuffs, leg warmers. It was cold. The kind of cold that makes your bones hurt. The kind of cold that I didn’t mind leaving behind in Michigan.
Now press the fast forward button on life and I was taking a vacation on perhaps the most ideal weekend to travel away from Washington, DC. (Depending on your love of tourists and crowded public transportation). While hundreds of thousands of people traveled to DC to experience the Inauguration, I was flying down to the Florida Keys for a weekend getaway with two of my favorite people. It was warm, sunny and blue. Flip flops replaced my socks. Sunglasses replaced my earmuffs. Swim suits replaced my scarf.
Years ago, I was numb and shivering outside as I watched the President and First Family keep warm in the Presidential Reviewing Stand. They gave the occasional “ooh” or “ahh” at the floats that paraded in front of us. In the present, I was marveling over the white sand, blue skies and 80 degree temps. Instead of being on my feet all day in the bitter cold, I was laying on a lounge chair with my feet in the warm water.
So whether something tangible is placed side-by-side or you are comparing memories next to each other, don’t you think it’s possible for our lives to be juxtaposed, not just things?
The places we find ourselves. The people we meet. The feelings we experience. If juxtaposition places things close together, I think it’s safe to say almost everything in our live is juxtaposed.
I guess that’s what Mrs. Paprocki meant when she said “go beyond the word.”