This year has been magic. And not. All somersaults forward and utter stillness. Early in January I visited with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in years. In the time between our visits she moved to London and back again, graduated with her Masters, and met the man she’s now married to. We sipped coffee and tea in Central Park and walked south along the Mall. And with our chins tucked into our coats, our bodies bracing against the cold, we caught up on as much as we could in the short window before work. We spoke of the past yes, but also of a present uncertainty, of feeling totally unsure as to what the future might hold. Hovering, she called it. And just before we parted ways, sitting at a table in the basement of the Plaza Hotel, having ducked in to escape the cold, she mentioned a prayer she’d seen at an exhibit years before. She said after seeing it, she wrote the words down, and then proceeded to repeat only them for nearly a month.
“Oh, opener of all doors, open for me the best door.”
I am a sucker for words. I am especially a sucker for words that when strung together feel like a door opening, casting a sliver of light into a dark hallway. And those eleven words, that prayer, felt like exactly that--like the door itself--a hinge on which possibility might swing.
Hope by another name.
It is actually quite helpful when approaching things in life--big things, little things--to wonder if it feels like the best door. It is a gut check in the best possible way--where faith meets instinct.
In the first two months of this year I spent six weeks suspended in the terror of not knowing. Standing in many a doorway and looking in. Which meant a very many emails and interviews and tenuous treks on narrow limbs.
Hope, as it turns out, takes quite a lot of work.
So much good has happened this year. And so much of that good has been leaving behind what was really not. Bad situations have a way of shrinking one’s world to that thing alone, and shrinking is almost never good. And much as I wanted (and knew I needed) to leave, it was important, in all ways, to be clear on what I was moving towards, not just what I was leaving behind.
I wanted to walk through the very best door.
I’d already made the mistake of walking through the closest available door, as opposed to the best one, and it ended disastrously. Two years ago I made two decisions, both in service of leaving things behind, and it has taken me all the time since to undo the mess. I moved in with the wrong person and accepted the wrong job. And while I was able to leave the apartment after six months, the job took longer. For a year and half I’d walk west at the end of the day, pour myself a glass of wine, bring it into the shower, and attempt to scrub and slough off the day.
Out, out damn’d spot. Without the blood.
And so when the right door opened this year, I calmly and confidently closed the one behind me and didn’t look back.
But change is funny, and so is grief, and I spent ten days between the two jobs staring at the mountains, feeling like I barely saw them.
I still dream about the girl I lived with when all this happened. I don’t know how to write about her cruelty and make it okay. I don’t know how to say that under some of the very worst circumstances, when all we had was our humanity, she couldn’t meet me there. I am embarrassed by how deeply she wounded me--ashamed of how much I hate her. But I can feel my body shifting and sorting and connecting the dots. It is one of those uncomfortable truths that fear and anger seem to intensify as they leave the body. I dream about her less than I used to and I can feel my utter frustration warming, like a sheet of ice cracking, breaking off to return to sea.
Two nights ago I dreamt about the man I dated when I was twenty-four. The dream was so clear and I woke up so furious. I’ve thought of him so little of him in the last six years, but two days ago I woke up seething--that he’d treated me as he had, and that I’d allowed it. The anger was about his deep manipulation and incredible selfishness. And it’s not lost on me that those feelings are surfacing as I try to reconcile that same behavior in others.
It has taken me a very long time to understand that there are people who are not good. For a long while I thought that as everyone aged they’d shed the noise of immaturity to reveal an innate goodness below. But that takes quite a lot of work and the intelligence to know when it is needed. And some people are so deeply unhappy with themselves that it is easier to cast that unhappiness outwards and catch others in the net. I think it has to do with false power.
It turns out that when one leaves those situations and people behind it doesn’t erase the past, it simply creates the space to confront it.
Which is why, it is only now, all this time later, that I am loosening my grip. But it is an uncomfortable process. Something very human in me wants to hang onto the safety blanket of my rage. Something very human in me is afraid to let go.
But life inches forward.
I have been listening to Noah and the Whale this week, thinking of the large room I lived in on 181st street, and remembering the girl I was at twenty-five. There was sort of a reckless hope then. I miss that. I wouldn’t go back of course, because things are better now--a better job, a little more money, more movement, more knowledge. I like getting older, I like who I am. Sure, my skin isn’t as bright as it used to be and there are new stresses and fears, but all in all, life is good. But if there is a thing I wish I could reclaim from that time, it is the wide berth for failure. Which I think means more possibility, more opportunity, more dreams of a doors I’d not previously considered. More forgiveness and generosity for the process of becoming. More hope, really.
Oh, opener of all doors, open for me the best door.