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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The nature of doors


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. 

9 comments:

Dayna Carleton said...

Love your writing! Wow! Just excellent, your ideas and the way you express them. It is a joy to read your posts and I thank you for sharing.

cheryl said...

Stars await.

cheryl said...

BTW, Tom, this is one of my favorite columns of yours. It's "without a shred of maudlin sentimentality, self-pity or irrational expectation."

Another piece for your next book.

shoreacres said...

There have been a lot of little leavings in my life, but when the Big Leaving came, it was half them, half me. I'm not sure which half came first. It doesn't matter now.

What does matter is that there was a soundtrack, one that I still drag out and play when I want to remember there's a huge difference between having a boss and being my own boss and that, generally speaking, everything The Boss has to say in regard to moving on is dead on.

Sometime I'll tell you and Lori the whole story of the move from "that" to "this", but it needs telling, not writing. What I can tell you now is that it's been pretty unpredictable the whole way, sometimes miserable and occasionally a whole lot of fun.

So get dancing. ;-)

tom said...

Cheryl -- Face it, you just have a thing about Kansas' motto. Any form, any shape, any texture. And with Brownback in office, more applicable than ever...

tom said...

Linda -- I look forward to hearing your story. After a week of "unemployment," my biggest challenge has been resetting my internal clock. I keep wanting to wake up at 3 a.m.! Emotionally it's been up and down but mostly up, and I've been terribly busy with news work and photo jobs, so all is well. Yes, stars await.

Kris H. said...

I also love this piece, especially the part about that junk phrase, "When one door closes another one opens." That's most often said by someone who feels they have to say something, but I've never found it appropriate nor comforting.

May your coming days be bright and full of interesting things to do and especially of pictures to make, because we will never run out of those--unlike those damned doors.

tom said...

Thank, Kris. In the first week of my unexpected retirement I've picked up three photo jobs and have another pending. That's a good start, but realistically I'm taking it one week at a time. Manageable chunks, I suppose.
And yeah, I dislike the phrase, too. It sounds awkward and placating.

Carol said...

Catching up on 4 weeks of columns. I read this one last. Just want to say I'm glad you chose Kansas!