The month of January takes its name from the Roman God, Janus, who was the god of beginnings and endings, of doorways, and gates. Janus had two faces that looked out on either side of the doorway, in order to see what was happening in the directions of the past and the future; to contemplate and consider the events that happened in the past as well as what lies ahead in the future. He is the guardian of entrances and exits, of crossing places and thresholds. He was the god of the main doorway into the home, of the gate at the front walkway, of the passageway, and of bridges, the keeper of doors and keys.
Janus was linked with endings as well as beginnings, as at the end of a journey another doorway appears. Janus symbolized change and transitions: of the progression of life; the changes in a person from birth to death; from the past to the future; from one reality to another; from a time of peace to a time of war; from one vision to another; from one universe to another. He was the middle ground and as such stood between youth and adulthood, the country and the city, barbarism and civilization.
Janus represents the passage of time, and was celebrated at life’s beginnings; at birth, upon marriage, at planting time and at harvest; at all types of important events in a person’s life.
My mother and I were both born in January, she, eighteen years before me. Technically she was seventeen years old at my birth, since she turned eighteen just nine days after I was born. January is a bleak month for births, and I can only imagine that it was especially bleak for my mother; who was still more child than woman, and living with her self-indulgent husband and her in-laws at the time of my birth. Clearly she was on her own in this business of transition from girl to woman and mother.
My January birth was the threshold of her motherhood and by age twenty-two she had given birth to five children. Her years of mothering ended rather brutally in the January that I turned eleven, when my father took all of her children away from her and she immediately ceased being a mother. I often consider how hard that transition must have been for her but I can’t even begin to imagine what walking through that doorway was like.
I’m thinking more about these past events because this January my mother is facing another transition, from life to death. She has been diagnosed with colon cancer, which has already metastasized all over her body, and although she’s undergoing chemotherapy treatment, even if successful, it will only prolong her life briefly.
Once again, in January, my mother stands at a place of entrance and exit, as do I, who is watching her begin to cross through an eternal doorway. For me, this January marks the month of the keeper of keys, when I look both backward to the past and ahead to the future, knowing that one of those keys will lock and close a door that can never again open.