This week I was enthusiastic to help people explore more of their thoughts and memories about present and past home environments. At first, I couldn’t think of a new starting point for this. Then I saw an image of a door opening in my head. It invited me to start the session with a poem by one of my favourite writers, Marge Piercy. In Doors opening, closing on us, Piercy says:
“We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase.”
After this, I led the group through a visualisation exercise about doors from different times in our lives. We went on to have a paired then group discussion about the literal and metaphorical associations we had made with this theme. Read on to see what each contributor came up with in response to these prompts and conversations.
From my perspective, listening to others in these online discussions takes me back to being a child again, when after knocking on the front door of a new friend, I was first welcomed in. I hope that you the reader also feel some of the joy, kindness and honour of being invited to glimpse the inner life of those who open up and greet you here.
During the lockdown, every thought and conversation, no matter what the topic, eventually winds its way back to the pandemic. When asked to talk about doors, after hiding out behind them for seven weeks, the connection is all too obvious. So it was a relief and a pleasure, talking to Susan, to reach this point unexpectedly late in the conversation, and even then to touch on it only briefly before closing that door and opening another.
Instead, we talked of changing times: from the single door of Susan’s childhood cottage, opening straight into the living room; to the front doors and hallways and French windows and kitchen doors of modern living; to the many people stacked in tiny flats, with front doors opening straight into their living rooms, and doors built to close tight automatically in the hope of compartmentalising fire.
Doors, it seems, reflect much of the way we live. For my son, like everything else, they are a plaything. If you shut one, you say “Ba-bye!”; if you open one, you say “Boo!”; either way, you laugh for about a minute, immediately do the other and continue until you get bored (which may never happen) or are made to do something boring, like go to bed or eat an apple. If a door is closed, it must have something on the other side that is fun to bash or put in your mouth, and should be opened immediately. If it will not open, bang your tiny fists on it and shout until a grown-up opens it for you. If this does not work, simply rip it off its hinges: this is a thing that, at eighteen months old, you can apparently do somehow.
(When you have a toddler, every thought and conversation, no matter what the topic, eventually winds its way back to the toddler.)
At first I thought I would not have a lot to say about doors, but thanks to Jolene’s introduction and in talking with Joe, I found I was able to get my thoughts in order and actually identify some of what doors mean to me.
Joe and I shared our individual memories of when we had been locked out of our respective homes and unable to get through the door. We were unable to rouse the other occupants and had to resort to alternative actions. Many years separated our experiences, but it was very interesting to know they were very similar. The door was a barrier at that time to what we wanted to do, and the safety of home.
I have lived in several places all with different doors, but they all served the purpose of opening the way to home, a place to be released from the external world with all its stress and trauma. Getting home from an exacting day at work, or a difficult situation trying to pacify toddlers in tantrum mode, or recalcitrant teenagers, on opening the front door you were in a more private space and able to relax or deal with the said toddlers or teenagers in your own space. Doors protected you from the outside world, and enabled you to just be yourself, whatever that might be.
Another thought came to me as I was talking. When it is warm enough, I like to have all the interior doors open, and enjoy the sense of freedom and flow of energy to the whole house this encourages. Nothing is shut off.
Importantly though, remembering and appreciating too how fortunate you are if your home is a safe place, as for so many people this is sadly not so. A door in those circumstances is the very opposite of allowing entry to safety.
I remember my fear on reaching that door in Bloom Street. I nearly didn’t ring the bell. It was the early 1980s and the realisation that I could no longer suppress my feelings for other women had been a long time coming. Going through that door to the lesbian support group changed my life for the better. It was my first experience of “coming out of the closet”, that powerful metaphor for not being ashamed of who you are and no longer hiding that truth from others. It was a real door, but the first of many metaphorical doors throughout my life.
I came through doors to friends first. Some are dear friends to this day, but others withdrew or I did, because of their reactions. Living in Manchester, especially in Whalley Range and Chorlton, I was also in the right place to make many new friendships, some long-lasting. Even today, after changes in society that would have astounded us four decades ago, it would be much harder in other parts of our city and country.
My experience of workplace doors varied, not only when I changed jobs or roles, but every time new colleagues joined a team. I have always preferred to get to know people before coming out, and only then if it seemed relevant. Often it wasn’t, although sometimes I couldn’t control other people deciding to “out” me others. These days, younger people may question such caution but it became a way of life in more hostile times. After all, full legal protection against discrimination at work for LGBT people only came into effect in 2010.
I hovered at the thresholds of family doors far longer than many do. I’m lucky to be part of a large, loving family who enjoy coming together, and I didn’t want to cause distress. Once you’ve spoken, there is no way back. In retrospect, my parents must have seen the change in me when I finally met the right person and settled down happily. They always included her in family gatherings. My partner and I have now been through many other metaphorical doors together over the last thirty-three years.
We’ve lived in our current house for over twenty years now, and are comfortably out with our near neighbours. I smile that we had no hesitation recently in meeting many more neighbours via the recently established WhatsApp group for the whole road. Coming out was not an issue. Connecting, caring and sharing are what matter now.
This week’s topic produced some very interesting insights into the importance and significance of doors in our lives. Unlike windows, by their very raison d’être, doors involve us in a more active interaction, involving the transition between different states such as indoor to oudoors, bedroom to living room to kitchen and others. Symbolically, they have also come to represent different phases of our lives, for instance, in the old adage “when one door closes another opens”. In this respect, at the end of this “lock down”, we will all go through to a new lifestyle.
Doors are also intimately associated with the idea of home and a place of safety, but also of hospitality, both of which are being put under the spotlight at this time. While contemplating this symbolism, I was reminded of the “Door of Reconciliation” in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, which combines both being closed as a barrier and open as an invitation. Briefly, the story goes that two rival families in 15th century Ireland were engaged in a bitter feud. One “Black James” took refuge behind this door and would not come out. Wishing an end to the conflict, and in order to extract his erstwhile foe, Gerald Fitzgerald cut a hole in the door and thrust his arm through to offer his hand in friendship. If you’d like to find out more, take a virtual visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Closely allied to these concepts is the crucial importance of keys in our lives: getting the “key to the door” on coming of age, the romantic sharing of keys signifying a strengthening relationship and even down to choosing a trusted friend or neighbour to keep a spare set of keys in case of an emergency.
The significance of doors was recognised by ancient civilisations. The Roman God Janus, after whom January is named, was the deity who not only looked after doors and gateways but also comings and goings, beginnings and endings and transitions of all kinds. In many cultures, sacred artifacts are placed in doorways or entrances to both bring blessing and ward off evil spirits.
Alberto Velázquez Yébenes
I love speaking with this man. As he normally does, Tony took me away from the usual meditation exercise with a much more philosophical debate. His webcam is blurry, so you normally get a hint of his shape in the middle of the fog…still able to see his Cheshire Cat smile shining through though.
Now, what does a door represent compared to a window (our exercise from last week)? A door represents some sort of movement, action. Whilst a window can be, not in a bad way, more contemplative, a door suggests two spaces that sooner rather than later will be crossed, a threshold he said. As an architect I couldn’t like this enough.
From the simple thought of protection, access … invitation as well. This made me think about those fairy tales about vampires only being allowed to enter a property if they are welcomed in, Netflix speaking.
In truth, during the meditation exercise there was a door ( and a new bit of Spain) I was transported to. The one on my father’s house, in the outskirts of Madrid. It was a ground floor flat in a block with a swimming pool, and this memory brought me to my bare feet and the freshness, still soaked from a swim in those months of the summer. My toes tingled just with that thought. The cracking noise of that door being opened will last forever.
Tony is heading back to the big picture, and we get caught in a story about peace and war (another one of our usual highlights). What his expectations are for the next generation of doors after this pandemic. Will we have an open doors society? His is a thoughtful optimism, not a cheesy one. And I have not lived through a war, so I thought on about The Lord of the Rings.
In the book, in a place called Moira, everyone congregated at an entrance to a very dark passage. “Talk, friend and you will be let in” the magician translates to the audience. Hours and hours are spent searching for the password by speaking different languages. Things like “Open” “ Let us in” etc . Until he realises the hidden message was “say ‘friend‘… and you will be let in”. Voilà and it worked. The big doors opened naturally with another never-ending squeak.
“These were happier times”, and they all laughed.