This old door


I have been thinking a lot about doors lately. Our old home is safeguarded by a handsome, well-worn, solid-wood craftsman door, complete with those wonderful wavy-glass panes across the top. Facing the north side of our home, set back from the edge of the woods by a deep and inviting summer porch, whose roof in winter casts an even deeper shade, those panes in truth let in little light. (pain can be that way, of course).  And because of that, sometimes I have believed that our cozy yellow-pine lapboarded living room can sometimes feel darkly somber at this time of the year.

I have also been thinking a lot about the whirlwind I was swept into upon my return to this home in October.  Coming back from a several month stay up north- much of which was spent in a canoe, and all of which was spent disconnected from the chaos of our culture– reentry had felt somewhat surreal, much as Tom Hanks’ character experienced in the noise of reentry in the film, Castaway.  I wrote about that feeling here.

Still, I really wanted to be HERE now, in THIS place now. I truly desired to reconnect – with relationships that are important to me, with persons whom I cherish, with the community I call home. And after all, I was quite explicitly told that this is what good women do – connect and take care.  

At the same time, I somehow believed it important to reengage with the news during a season that was being touted as an urgent to my homeland’s survival, when my engagement was vitally needed.  We’ve all been taught that this is the thing that good citizens do.  The truth is I guess I’d been feeling quite guilty at having been so blissfully disconnected, while being so completely immersed in that simpler, quieter, more immediate presence that life in the north is for me,  as if that made me a bad human somehow. (Which, I admit, makes me wonder what does it mean to be human after all?)

So, upon my reentry, I left that door open behind me, inviting all of that direly awaiting chaos in to my hearth.

It seems that all human families, large and small, have their share of dysfunction and chaos, codependence and unresolved shame. As a result, there is an awful lot of crazy-making swirling out there –continually spiraling dramas and crises, copious amounts of attention-getting screaming, endless hyperbolic negativity, misplaced hysteria, gaslighting and victimization. There’s a great deal of over-amplified fear being expressed as seemingly legitimate outrage and apocalyptic fervor. Perhaps I recognize it in the macrocosm perhaps because I have lived with it in the microcosm. I know how easy it is to get swept into the emotional melee, to be held captive by it,  being at first beguiled by the fear, then dwelling with it held over your head like a guillotine.

Still, it took me some time to understand what was happening to me.  It wasn’t until I became reacquainted with it intimately, on a personal level with someone I love, when that same familiar feeling of powerless anxiety and futile exhaustion threatened to overwhelm me, that the AHA! came, the recognition that this was the very same chaos that had threatened to ransack my house when I’d opened my door to the madness of my homeland’s manipulative sociopolitical mayhem.

That feeling I’d had for those weeks this fall? A good ole case of PTSD perhaps, for when I opened that door it was impossible for me not to take in that wild despair, not to viscerally take on those vivid fears in the world.  It consumed me completely. There was no place to retreat from the storm. I have been told that I am very easily influenced. I guess I’d not wanted to believe that about myself until now.

I do know, however, now that I am older (and hopefully wiser), that I am no longer capable of bearing all of that weight.  Truth is, I probably never could, I just didn’t feel the weight of it all of those years when I was struggling to survive.  Perhaps I’m just tired now, but I also suspect that with age comes a perspective that can step back from the frantic fervor with grace.  When there is space to step back and be still, I can hear the voice of that wise one in me.

But I have wrestled a lot over the years with understanding how to establish the kind of boundaries necessary to create that inviolable space. I have been told that this happens when one’s boundaries are bulldozed, especially when young. It becomes difficult to discern where you end and the other begins.  Mostly, boundaries have simply felt cold to me, as if I can feel nothing at all behind them, certainly nothing like love, especially for one who has learned that to love (and so to be good) is to be attached in unhealthy, overly identified and enmeshed ways that assume and diminish and drain. Those kinds of walls have felt like dams, diverting my love’s flow from my heart to my head, into judgment or fix-it mode, into analyzing with little compassion.

The new thing I am learning is this, that boundaries can be more like a door than a wall, and that I can choose when to open it, to welcome what is seeking and needing my warmth..not my fear. More importantly for me, since I can’t always predict from whence it will arrive (and it often still takes me a little while to realize when I have invited it in) I can also trust myself to know when it is appropriate to close the door on the chaos… whether that be cultural or familial, and focus on being peace. I don’t have to allow the chaos… the chaos of a loved one or the chaos of the world… to utterly raze my house.  A good friend gave me the metaphor of a fire on the other side, how we are taught to feel the door handle for that heat before opening it so that the flame doesn’t consume us. ( and here, I am remembering with wonder how Water also came to me this autumn, giving me the power to put that fire out when I unwittingly opened the door to that heat.)

Back in my living room, I wonder about this old door. We have been considering for years removing the lower wood panels and replacing them with glass to let in more light through these dark winter months. But sometimes I fear that to do so will take away the very character and substance of her. She is a real beauty, after all.

The thing is this. I don’t want to close myself off from the world or from those that I love, but what I haven’t really mastered yet is how to open that door in order to see clearly (rather than to hide) with Love the whole of life, to welcome what is perhaps needing the shelter of my warmth, or even to venture out into the chaos without becoming overwhelmed by it. The noise of the firestorm can still too quickly drown out my own inner voice.  I’d like to see clearly, honestly, wholly, lovingly, yes, bear witness, with Love, the terrible beauty of life, to live from that loving, long-seeing perspective. A window is good for that, don’t you think?

Neither do I want to be untouchable. Perhaps there are seasons and climates when I can and ought to throw the door wide. Let the sun warm and fresh breezes flow through. Welcome to my hearth the friend or the stranger who needs shelter FROM the fire or the storm (without inviting the chaos itself inside) . Perhaps there ARE times when the incessant knocking needs to be heeded, times when my whole house needs to be violently swept clean of its comfortable furniture, like Rumi’s guesthouse, to ‘make way for some new delight’.

Last week, I turned on the radio for just long enough to check on the climate out there, to take a pulse, so to speak. I answered the phone just once yesterday to take the temperature of another, I even peeked out on the internet once or twice, just long enough to know that the storms rage on and there is not a thing I can do to quell them. But I do know enough about storms to know that they eventually blow or burn themselves out.

For now, it is winter, and that blessed door shall remain, while I look within for peace, and you are most welcome to join me.





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