Janus, the god of doors and gates

Happy New Year! Although I might (dare I admit it?) be a member of the Xmas ‘Bah! Humbug!’ brigade, I do like the feeling of new beginnings that the New Year brings.

coin_janus_225-212_sHow apt that our Roman ancestors named the first month of the year after Janus, their god of doors and gates. Doors and gates serve as both ways out and ways in. I love it that Janus has two faces, one looking forwards and one looking back. The beginning of January seems a good time for looking back at the last year, and forward to the next.

On a global level, the past year has, as always, brought devastating events and situations that we might only learn about through the media, but which will have affected those involved on a very deep and personal level. My own highs and lows are so small in comparison.

Looking back over the last year, among my personal highlights are winning a local speech contest and being the runner up at the area contest. Low points include my mother-in-law dying but, at 95, we could truly think of celebrating what had been her long and fruitful life.

Looking further back at previous years … but I wonder sometimes if I look back too much. Writing my memoir, The Dark Threads, made my troubled teens seem like only yesterday. Is writing cathartic? I’m not sure. I couldn’t stop looking back after its publication either. What was once a secret I tried to push away, has become something I’ve thought about, talked about, written about, chewed on, choked upon and spat out until I’m sick-sick-sick of the disturbing memories. I do think it’s important to face the demons of the past, to look them full in the face, to reflect, to try to understand and, hopefully, to learn from history and to change things for others if we can. It’s also important to look forward, to move on.

Perhaps my old childhood friend, Wendy, had the right idea. We’ll have been aged around nine when her mum took us on a train journey to Blackpool. Wendy pestered her mum to swap seats with her because, after a while, she decided she didn’t like travelling backwards. Her mum was settled in her seat by then and reluctant to move. But Wendy insisted. She said: ‘I want to see where I’m going to, not where I’m coming from’. Over the years I have often thought about those words when I’ve found myself bogged down by my past and in danger of getting stuck in it.

Thinking again about the face of Janus that looks back, I am reminded of how, when I was a child, like most children I was curious about things and I didn’t always do as I was told. Intrigued by the Bible story of Lot’s wife, I used to think, if I had been Lot’s wife, I, too, would probably have looked back, just as she did. Hey, be careful, Janus, or you might get stuck and end up as a pillar of salt.

10 thoughts on “Janus, the god of doors and gates

  1. I think it’s good to look back and to be grateful for the blessings that happened in the past, it can give us hope that the future may also hold blessings, or even simply help us to be in a state of thankfulness. We certainly need to learn from our mistakes too, so this is one of the reasons I am so against ECT which obliterates memories that we need for us to move on. I remember one day back in 1994 when I had lost everything I held dear (that reminds me of a Graham Kendrick song that I heard at the time “All I Once Held Dear”) and I was walking up a very steep hill to my friend’s home with some shopping I had bought for her. The shopping was very heavy and I thought I couldn’t go another step, but I felt God say to me to look back down the hill. I did so and saw how far I had come and that somehow gave me the strength to carry on.

    • Thank you, Jacqui, for sharing your experience. Yes, looking back can remind us of good things, too, and also help us learn from past mistakes. Sadly, as you say, ECT-damage can hinder this.

  2. Plenty of food for thought here. I think it’s good to look forward rather than looking back all the time. But it’s not healthy to suppress the past. Better to put it to good use. Happy New Year!

    • Thank you for your comment, Miriam. I’ve spent a lot of time looking back and I hope I’m putting it to good use. Perhaps I need also to work more on living in the ‘now’, and, yes, it’s good to look forward.

  3. Hi Jean, interesting post, I guess it’s inevitable that we reflect on the past especially if we feel we have suffered an injustice. ECT is far from and ideal treatment for depression or distress, your accomplishments past and present, indicate it appears to have caused you little, if any impairment. Although I went through a period of anger at being given this treatment myself, emotionally I knew that anger could be as equally damaging to my health, I figured I could not undo any harm it may have done. Some people channel their anger directly toward the perpetrators, in this case psychiatry; to the political systems which avoid addressing the issues which promote good mental well being, by writing your account of your experiences and by your chosen work, you seem to have used your anger creatively. I am looking forward to your novel, I seem to remember, Once upon a time…you were writing a fairy story? that would be fun, I am now finding pleasure in this genre! having missed out as a kid…presently writing a piece for blog with this theme.


    • Thanks for this, Su. I’ve found anger to be a ‘2-edged sword’. It’s helped energise me into action when I’ve been able to channel it constructively, but, at other times, it’s fed into a futile re-living of past situations.
      I’d forgotten about writing a fairy story. It was for a competition that I got nowhere with, but trying to write it was good fun.

  4. Pingback: The year in a flash « An' de walls came tumblin' down

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