Doors, gates, doors, been thinking about doors for a month or so. I see the gate our neighbor closed to his 300 acres so cattle could walk in there and the five old, paneled, white doors and three steel doors in our house. We took out other doors asking the house to open up. I don’t like closed doors and will leave the bathroom door open, though in this house it swings shut. The cat and the dog, push through to be near me.
We closed the big barn door because it turned the barn into a wind tunnel. We fashioned a way for Morgen to walk in and out the smaller door. When the East wind howls, it’s a bitch because that’s the door Tessie comes in and there’s no blocking it. When I was a kid we rarely had an east wind, but here in Illinois it roars off the lake or swings around behind a low.
I think about these doors, two of which Bruce made, how we made them to close out the wind and snow and rain. How the wind, even the wind of the Spirit can roar too loudly, too wildly. Though I have seen our trees reach for that wind and dance.
My current thoughts about doors started with reading about Cyrus King of Persia and how God himself was going to swing wide the gates. “Cyrus, whose right hand I will take hold of to subdue nations before him, and to strip kings of their armor, to open the doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down the bars of iron…” (NIV, Isa. 45: 1 b -2). I first saw this when I was a child reading the Bible in the barn, and I thought what a thing for God to open doors, cut through iron gates for a foreign king. Might he do as much for me? I’m not real clear on the desires of my heart back then, though I remember longing for my friends at school to accept Jesus and longing for a boyfriend and longing to write a vision of glory.
I worked with life coach Terri DeMeo for a couple sessions. I’d met her when she edited Martha Beck’s newsletter. She had responded to something I’d written about living a small life. At the time I knew I was blocked as far as sending out work while being bound by desire for my novel to be published. She asked me what images came to mind. And I saw, I swear I saw, dimly and I was hesitant to tell her, these massive wood doors, with cast iron hinges, doors to a city, opening wide as I rode my horse in. There was no effort. The doors swung wide.
Now I don’t think those doors had to do with my writing because there’s been nothing but branches, even tree trunks laid in my path. I grew up in a silencing family and found poetry as a way to write my truths in code. Slowly I learned to simply say what I wanted to say. I learned how powerful simplicity could be. Learning my craft has been like untangling those branches one by one and moving them. Learning how to have an audience has been like dragging those branches off to the side. My readers have not bought the book. I paid a publisher to publish it and Facebook to boost my posts so my readers can see them, though it’s a pleasure in being read. The workshop folks toughening us for our critics only made scars that burn and keep me wary of other writers.
For all I know these images could have been a brain burp, like the images we see as we fall asleep. But I am intrigued the idea of doors–open and shut. The term for opportunity in my faith background has been, “the door will open” or “if a door closes a window will open.”
Then there’s the well worn story of Jesus standing at the door and knocking, the door of our heart. It’s up to us to open sesame to a person just about everyone agrees embodied everything good about humans and none of the bad.
Laura Boggess in her blog post “The Top Five Lessons of 2015” says, “January may be named for the Roman god Janus—a name that comes from the Latin ianua, which means ‘door’”. Mythology has him the keeper of doors, gates, bridges, and passages.
“But this is the kind of door my God keeps—one made from parted waters, one that passes safely through tongues of flame, one that parts the heavens in a windstorm. These impossible, seemingly impassible doors; these narrow gates that the world whispers about, this is not the way, it is too hard—these are the kinds of doors my God keeps. He opens them wide and still, I squeeze through as if only a tiny crack.”
I guess I knew this, that Janus’ name came from door when I wrote in an introduction of The River Caught Sunlight that I later cut.
“As a devout adolescent, I found a boulder in the Normans Kill where I could sit and look upstream and downstream. The boulder had rolled out of the Adirondacks on the belly of the last glacier that shaped most of the Hudson Valley ten thousand years ago.
“I sat on that rock stone cold against my butt and threw my grief at God, got his answer thrown back at me–something about my faith being more about rest than anything else; something I’m finally beginning to understand.
“During the time I was walking to the boulder, my mother brought me a bisque vase with two swans on either side. She said it was very old and came with a story. Her great grandmother had hidden it in her dress to keep for herself, when her husband was gambling away her dowry, their wealth, on the ship to America. It was all that was left of great wealth. My grandmother was raised with the rich girls, around wealth, but not having her own until she was well into adulthood. This vase must have reminded them of the wealth that was squandered, that they could have used, as well as how the people they worked for rubbed it in. This vase was something my grandmother wanted me to have.
“Even after my parents were deceased, their notion of the wild Normans Kill people with their fierce ownership of the land took on a life of its own, somewhere between legend and curse. It was something my brother inherited, something that possessed his wife. As a young girl I was touched by it too, but I left home to go to college and to work. I saw the wildness from a distance, as if it became inch thick vines, draping from trees, choking the trees as they do on one of the slopes that drops to the river behind our house. They make walking very hard. They make the woods a dark, a dying place.
“Nearly every family has a story of how one person took most of the inheritance, that person usually the least deserving. Often it’s because the person loves the land to the point of forgetting their family ties.
“This is the story of the damn vase, which I can’t figure out is a blessing or a curse. It is how I lived up to my namesake, my grandmother’s name, Janus, not how I spell it, Janice, but the old Roman god’s name of gates and doorways–two faces looking in opposite directions. The valley of trouble a door of hope. The story of my life, how I walked through a trouble that is everything trouble can be, how I have broken through a door of hope into a house I can’t describe for how it is the deepest home I have ever known, walking with a man whose love pursued me into my deepest pain, pushed me into joy.
“It is a story of how I made peace with my choice to shuck the wildness, to accept my loss; how eventually I walked out of the woods, climbing away from my beloved Normanskill to a ridge line and a dirt path fit for the soles of my feet and by them round clay rings circled by rain, baked in the sun.”
Since then I gave my grandmother’s vase to my cousin, who was mourning her parents, the loss of her family’s things. I am of an age to start placing prized possessions with others. Besides I was done with that story.
The thing is, this is a work that grabs my heart, to be a bridge person, a woman who stands in the gap, a person who helps people reconcile. Often I see both sides of an issue. What I care about is empathy, is people checking their prejudices, and listening to the other side, carefully, with an open heart. But I am not trained and have made a hash of things. Those honest conversations when conflict rises stop me dead. I mostly avoid them. I have been trained to make nice. And if I didn’t make nice, if I spoke out of my grief, I was rebuked or abandoned.
The year Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby and broke down, I attended The Writers For Racing Project at Churchill Downs. We spent two weeks wandering around the backstretch and learning about horse racing. I became fascinated with the starting gates, how horses needed to be trained to walk in them, stay pent up enough to burst out when the gates opened and the bell ran, but also not to kill the jockey or the gate crew loading him. A horse could be disqualified from running if he didn’t load well.
I thought then I was at the beginning of being published because the gates swung open with eight agents and four New York editors asking to see the whole manuscript of my novel. One major LA agent even called the house. The track was wide and groomed before me. But nothing came of this opportunity. I needed major work on my craft and my heart before the book was ready for readers. Branches laid down, that I had to clear stick by stick. Though once they cleared, I dumped into a peace, therapists often dream for their clients. By then the whole publishing industry had upended and I took the deal to pay to publish my book when it finally came.
Finally, thinking about doors, I remembered a poem I wrote, about a boyfriend in graduate school. Looking back I think it predicted Bruce.
God–become a cave
where I can hide from the man
whose fingers creep
like salamanders of light
slithering to penetrate the darkness
I sleep in.
But Lord–be the door to the barn
where I kneel. Swing open
with the fulness of weight
and oak beams to the man who carries
the stillness between bleats of his sheep
and lays it softly on my hand.