Beyond the Threshold

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

~ William Blake


barn doorMy neighbors are temporarily storing a barn door in the hallway of our apartment building. It’s intricately carved, iron-studded, worn by wind, rain, the hands of several generations of farmers. I dare not ask why it’s there. I don’t want my question to spur my neighbors to action. The door must stay where it is—because, you see, I really need to open it and step through.

The same irrational compulsion urged me at eighteen to bump my head against a photo mural at a friend’s house. She laughed as I struggled to explain how important it was for me to break through solid wall. I wasn’t hallucinating. We weren’t drinking or talking magic or discussing the possibility of alternate universes. But I believed that if I wanted it hard enough, I could step over the threshold into the dapple-lighted, mossy coolness of the forest beckoning from the floor-to-ceiling photo.

I had to stop bumping my head after a while. The wall stayed solid, the forest remained inaccessible, and my friend was growing worried that I would give myself a concussion. Perhaps I should have kept trying. Perhaps I didn’t want to cross that threshold hard enough.

So now, this door. I inspect it from one side, then the other. It’s not flush with the wall— there’s clearly some space in-between, a space that belongs in my current reality. But seen from the front, the door promises a different reality, a truer one, perhaps, one I often feel nearby but am unable to access.

How do I open it? When? Who has the key? Why are some doors always closed when others open without being asked? Why can’t some thresholds be crossed back into the world we used to know? Is this the door I’ve been looking for?

Like Rilke suggests in his “Letters to a Young Poet”—and Rilke must have known what he was talking about—we should live the questions, hoping that one day the answers may present themselves.

I can be patient. I’ll come back tomorrow.

Meanwhile, more doors clamor for my attention: the two novels by my bedside I’ve been reading at the same time, the song I’m listening to on a loop, the raw poem I stumbled upon that seized me by the throat and won’t let go. I fling all these doors open and, in return, they open something inside me. I can almost see it—whatever it is that knows me—beyond the threshold.

The world is filled with doors. They’re not all intricately carved and iron-studded. Some of them balance invisible thresholds within reach, only to retreat when we come too close. Then one day, when we expect it the least, they let us in—that book, that painting, that song—and we step through into some truth we always knew was there.

~ ~ ~

PS–I’ve since found out that the door in the image above is 300 years old and belonged once in a harem in Uzbekistan. It’s now a work of art, currently being restored, soon to be exhibited as an object of great beauty.

Where do I go from here? The door that gave flight to my imagination has suddenly transformed into a symbol of female bondage.

I must admit, my knowledge of the importance of harems in the Islamic culture is limited. But I grew up in a place that used to pay tribute to the Ottoman empire, sometimes in the form of children. For almost five hundred years, young girls and boys from Moldova replenished various sultans’ harems and their armies of Janissaries.

I’m angry. I’m ambivalent about this door. It’s not the door’s fault, nor the artist’s who carved it, nor my neighbor’s, who has an eye for beautiful things. I’m angry about my ignorance. I’m angry about the existence of a painful past the door suddenly revealed to me. I carry that past within me, whether I want to or not. I managed to forget about the burden for a while–it happened so long ago, after all. I managed to go about my life in peace, and here it is again, this past, crowding me in the most unlikely of places, pushing down on my shoulders, reminding me of centuries of suffering. Reminding me that human bondage still exists.

I needed the door to open for me and it did, sooner than I expected. An abstract exercise in imagination became starkly real. I accept it, this reality, but the steps that carry me beyond the threshold are wary, hesitant. I asked the door to tell me a story, any story, and the one it chose to tell was about myself.

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