I’d like to say it was a bittersweet moment when I slipped the key from my key ring and deposited it in my boss’s inbox, said goodbye to one of the office staff working late and exited out the back door without fanfare, pealing trumpets, drum rolls or stirring soundtrack to mark the occasion. Had I been able to create my own musical accompaniment to the closing of a seven-year career it would have been something along the lines of a slow adagio or mournful cello dirge with a few crystalline piano notes to balance out the subsonic strings. Or something gritty by Bruce Springsteen. But life, unlike movies, doesn’t come with a soundtrack. If I wanted one, I’d have to conjure it.
And I couldn’t. If anything there was a singular thought, crisp and repetitive like a woodpecker’s hammering, to go, to clear the property and not look back, to forget the place and my part in it. But of course it’s never that easy.
For me, the saying “when one door closes, another opens” has always sounded trite and condescending, more smugness and false piety than actual belief that the one naturally follows the other as if it were an immutable law of the universe. Nothing in the rule book of existence guarantees replacement for opportunities gained or lost. One cannot buy insurance policies to mitigate the inevitable broken hearts, shattered relationships or losses of which there are as many as the stars. The cosmos is unfeeling, unsympathetic and utterly unsparing.
But there is a kernel of truth in the supposition. What’s missing is a disclaimer that the second half of the equation requires personal interaction. Doors do not open by themselves. Impetus—an outside force or energy—is necessary to at least begin the process, while the amount of impetus coupled with the efficiency of the door’s hinges does the rest.
The same is true for closing doors, though in today’s economic climate the force behind the action is usually external to ourselves. Doors are closed for us, behind us, or, as it often feels like, on us, and it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to picture that same force throwing its weight upon the door to keep it closed. Goodbye and good riddance. Go away.
I went. My feet felt light and airy, skipping across the surface of the concrete parking lot like windblown leaves, or inasmuch as my right knee could afford. I started the truck, backed up through a plume of burning oil, straightened the wheel and drove past the guard house and south onto Highway 77 unencumbered by guilt, remorse or, surprisingly, worry, and yet encumbered by questions that time alone would answer. I was thinking of that opposite door, or the potential of the door, at any rate, but it seemed far away, distant and small at the end of a long dark corridor, and I did not know if it needed a key to unlock or if the key were even in my possession. And if my internal pessimist mocked what might lay beyond, a small, quiet voice asserted that all would be okay. If nothing else, my experience in the transition has always turned out favorably, in the long run, at least.
Suffice to say that by the time I made the curve where the road drops into the Blue River Valley and the northern Flint Hills stretches unbroken at my proverbial feet, I was staring hard at that door, willing it to open onto something more fulfilling, something fueled by creativity and artistry rather than base drudgery.
A friend said, I’d take a sledgehammer to it. I’d knock that sucker down, or make a new opening. Forget the door.
Personally, I was thinking dynamite.
Maybe Kansas has rubbed off on me, all that ad astra shrugging off per aspera as if it were of no consequence, merely a bump in the highway of life or a minor hurdle to be overcome. I used to think it was a spit-in-the-face-of-adversity kind of attitude but I’ve come to reconsider it more pragmatically. The phrase itself is a masterpiece of brevity without a shred of maudlin sentimentality, self-pity or irrational expectation. There will be difficulties, it stresses, but what matters are the stars.
Stars, in this case, being another word for a door yet to be opened.
Lori, I think, was worried about my self-esteem and studied me for signs of depression. After all, most of the jobs I’ve departed from have been self-initiated and not coerced. Finding yourself no longer wanted or needed, regardless of extenuating circumstances, definitely strikes a blow against the image we hold of ourselves as vital and essential. The immediate question we ask of ourselves is chorused by friends and relatives, all of them well-meaning if not a little curious as if they, too, were looking for signs of foundering: What are you going to do now?
As if I knew. The real question, the one that gets to the nitty gritty, would be, “What are my options?”
Sink or swim comes to mind, but it sounds too fatalistic. I’m not ready to drown and I’m a lousy swimmer so I’ll carry the metaphor of the closed door at the end of that long hallway. It is, after all, the nature of doors to open. All that’s needed is impetus. Force.
What I will not do is stand still, poised between two portals, one forever barred and the other only a promise. In my mind are T.S. Eliot’s cautionary words of “the passage we did not make/towards the door we did not open.” Whatever it takes—a key, dynamite or a sledgehammer—that sucker’s going to open. Stars await.