The Mysteries at the Corner


Walk down any street and you’re likely to pass by dozens of these, if not hundreds or thousands. (Okay, almost any street.) There are plenty at eye level, and some stretch up to heights that can’t be reached without some sort of ladder. Maybe some even need elevators. There are more of these things flattened against the ground, shallow lines trodden upon by the soles of shoes. Some may even pass you by, if traffic is moving at an amicable pace. Or maybe you pass some by, if you’re trotting at a nice clip.

You’ll walk past the street corner when you reach a street intersection. You’ll step over the corners formed by several concrete blocks that stretch out across the sidewalk. Maybe you’ll be in the shadow of corners that flourish on a particularly decorated skyscraper, or at least a corner or two that taper into the eaves of an awning. No doubt you’ll walk by someone who’s carrying a boxy bag, or even a box itself, when at least one corner is in view but in some instances maybe you’ll spot all eight.

Who knew there were so many corners following us on the surface of this round, spherical, corner-less planet?

corners: definitions

one.

In one sense, a corner is the point where two lines meet. If I draw a line on a piece of paper, then another line at a different angle, they are bound to meet at this corner point (assuming, here, that either the paper is infinite in size, or that the lines are drawn in such a way that they meet on the limited surface of the paper.)

If we want to make a perfect corner, then I’ll draw the two lines perpendicular to each other. Then each corner will have a tidy angle of 90º.

These points also exist in the bends of our elbows and the joints of our knees.

two.

At the same time, though, a corner is also the edge where two planes meet, which can be seen as a line. See, for example, the seam where two exterior walls meet, the line that we move past in a manner called “rounding the corner”.

Even if there aren’t two walls, there is a corner. When the plane ends, dropping into nothingness, we can call that a corner. In some ways it’s like looking at the corner of a building from that perfect angle where the wall suddenly ends.

The word “corner” comes from the Latin word “cornu”, which means “horn” or “end”.* How quaint.

three.

A corner is also the area at which three (or more) planes converge. This might be the bright corner of the room in which someone is sitting. It could be the corner of a box hidden in shadow and darkness. These corners do not exist as either points or lines; rather, they take up a three dimensional space. And consider this—that corner could not exist without being an area, a space sitting in multiple dimensions. You could not see the corner if you could not see the lines, and you could not see the lines converging if you were not in a dimensional space.

With such varying definitions, no wonder why we can be surrounded by so many corners. Even on this round, spherical, corner-less planet.

corners: change

Enough of the mind-bending theories of the arithmetical world. Let us instead examine the corner as a place of changes. The line becomes an angle—oh, right, no more mathematics—so, where the wall becomes an edge, if we were to continue our trajectory on the street.

How is the corner a place of change? Close your eyes and picture yourself walking through a hallway. You walk from one end to the other, where you notice there’s a door. In a moment, you pass through the doorway. You move past four corners, two on your left, two on your right, outlined by the vague shape of a door’s frame. You’re out of the hallway and inside a rather large room. Where before you only had the straight line to walk down, you are now faced with choices: Do I walk straight to the wall before me? Turn right to make my way to the window? Or turn left to pass through another doorway? Where before there was no choice, the situation has changed—there is now a decision to make.

Maybe you make your way to the window. Since it’s a pleasant day, you unlatch the window and push the pane of glass open. The day beckons you outside. Do you climb over the windowsill? Another set of corners, here, this time on the window frame instead of the door frame. In the act of climbing, your energy changes from straight ahead (or right-facing, based on your orientation when you first walked into the room) to upwards, then (likely) downwards. Another change, this one in direction, has occurred.

Arguably, there is a change in identity at each corner as well. Not that your identity as a person changed when you went around the door frame or over the window frame. But that doorframe would have just been a wall if there wasn’t a corner or two. Probably one that you couldn’t have passed through with such ease.

But perhaps your identity has changed as well when you passed those corners.

corners: questions of identity

When you swung your legs over that window sill, what greeted you?

Before that—what did you think would greet you?

A beautiful bed of flowers, one that you’d need to gingerly weave through as not to disturb the delicate blooms?

A fluttering field of grass, extending to the horizon, reaching towards the warm sun from a field of life-giving soil? Before, you were trapped within walls; now, you are a free to roam towards distant lands.

Or maybe it was the plummeting heights of the skyscrapers surrounding your towering location. The roads and blessed earth are but a distant glimmer far below you. To step out into that emptiness would be madness.

Where you once walked with confidence, amongst the walls you were familiar with, you are suddenly gripped with terror at the emptiness before you.

For those of us who like a bit of a thrill, maybe you were lucky to feel exhilarated. Your life switched from boring to euphoric once you swung your leg over that corner.

corners: intersections and connections

Somehow, you made it safely to the street below. A few steps forward and you’re at a crosswalk. Bordered by four major corners, you stop, stand, and take in your surroundings.

What’s the other word for a crosswalk? Oh, right, an intersection. And these corners definitely form an intersection. Busy crowds of people and impatient vehicles have converged on this point from so many different directions. Most of them obediently follow the local laws of traffic. There are stops and pauses before each dutifully makes his or her way forward. They pass through this little area of corners, then move away from each other in so many different directions. The intersection is momentary. It is a place to converge, but only to diverge. Energy simply passes through.

But once you’ve made your way across the street, your eye notices something that it didn’t see earlier. The area behind the trees is now in plain sight. You notice that the man who crossed the street two paces behind you is waving to a woman sitting at a bench. He calls out a greeting, she looks up. Then an excited flurry of welcomes and words.

They don’t pass each other by like the rest of the world did. Instead, they’ve formed a connection. Coming from different places as they were, they could not have formed this particular connection on this particular day if they didn’t pass through that street corner, or themselves form a corner with their trajectories. If we are to be entirely truthful, this connection couldn’t have happened on this particular street corner if both parties hadn’t made their way past countless corners just moments before. No doubt one of them had to wend their way across multiple streets, both of the north-west as well as east-west variety.

corners: life's labyrinthine path

My feet stop moving on the pavement. Maybe some other pedestrians throw me disgruntled looks—but I’m not paying attention.

Given all of these corners I’ve just passed, climbed over, made my way around, through, across, etc, what if my life isn’t really a straight line from point A to point B? What if it’s really just a long series of corners? And many different corners in many shapes and sizes and colors, at that?

In some ways that can be a terrifying thought. After all, this would imply I’m stuck in a labyrinth of corners. Am I in a maze that I will never leave? Will I ever reach any of my goals if I can’t see them and—more importantly—can’t even see how to get closer to them? What if this is an Escher-esque perplexity?

But then I reconsider. All of these corners have certainly made life interesting. There’s that thrill of not knowing what’s beyond the corner. There’s excitement when I think of what could be awaiting me just around the bend. It’s a gamble, but that’s the fun. If I were walking in a single straight line, or even one with some slight curves and weaves, wouldn’t that be boring? I don’t know if I could count on the scenery to change. I always liked to see new things. And surely that straight path would mean I could see exactly how far I still have to go. I don’t think I want to know that, because that might be a very discouraging revelation… No, I’ll take the surprises, even the unpleasant ones, any day. I’ll take all my corners and nestle them all together and care for each of them as the precious objects that they are.

* definition courtesy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1953 edition

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