Through a Door, Courageously

I read somewhere recently a definition of hell that went like this: Hell is the moment that, when you die, the person you could have become meets the person you were.

I don't know anyone among us who doesn't have that thing lurking somewhere in the dark recesses of their lurkum: that gnawing sense that one could or should be doing something differently with one's life. I think it's quite possible to live years, decades even, according to someone else's rules of engagement -- a life originating out there -- driven by societal or parental or the ego's needs rather than from one's own heart, one's own compass.

It's an unsettling thought: that there might be a moment, after we die, when we must take stock of the story of our life.


I can't believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our living days well.
                                                                                                                         Dave Matthews


When I think of the curiosities I've followed in my life so far, I think of doorways. And the courage I had to muster to move through a lot of them. I remember walking through the front door at the Rippowan Cisqua School in Bedford, New York, for my first post-college job interview, knowing the carefree days of college were ending and it was time to enter The Real World. I remember walking into the room that would become "my" first classroom at the Children's School at Emma Willard. It didn't have a door, fantastically, but I do recall crossing that threshold, from my old life as an apprentice into a new one as a head teacher, ready and terrified at the very same time. One of the scariest was the doorway I walked through when I went to my first fire department training. It was a cold January night and, because there was coded lock on the door, I had plenty of time to walk back to my car and return to my warm house. But I didn't. I wanted to stretch myself into a new space where I was afraid to go. Less than an hour later I was suited up and floating in Lake Champlain for ice rescue training.

I walked through endless doorways when I was in the hospital in recent months, moving from the safe and known world of me in the hallway into the unknown abyss. Each patient was a new journey into the heart of suffering, and I felt anxious every single time I crossed a threshold. Would I know what to do? Would I say the right thing? Is there a chance that I might fuck things up more than they already are for this person who is sick in this hospital? And of course the standard-issue..what the hell am I doing here?

The payoff, needless to say, for walking forward into the unknown far, far exceeds the coziness of standing still or clinging to the known. I have never learned more about myself and about life than during the seven months I spent as a hospital chaplain.

I've come to view doorways as versions of sacred spaces -- liminal spaces -- through which I move from being a person who knows what's going on and feels safe and comfortable to being a person who is taking a risk in order to learn and grow; a person who is willing to say...I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I'm going to try it anyway; a person who is OK with falling, knowing she is capable of standing back up and taking the lesson forward. I could easily live my life doing all the things I already know how to do every day, but, for me, a life like that is the kiss of death. Put me in the ground already; I may as well be sleeping the Big Sleep.

This isn't about thrill-seeking or any kind of adrenaline rush; I'm not jumping out of airplanes or wrestling with alligators. I simply want to know how things work, how things feel; I want some clarity about the point of my existence. I think human are supposed to keep moving themselves out to the far edges of their zones of complacency. Sure, my life probably looks chaotic or disjointed to the spectators, but there has been a kind of discernible flow, and the movement has almost always been in the direction of seeking a kind of God experience here on Earth. I'm pretty sure that God wants us to be joyful and to figure out how we're meant to manifest our gifts, and I can't think of any other way to do that than to try a bunch of things to see what fits. Letting go of what we already know works (or, in most cases, isn't working) and seeking out new possibilities, new adventures, new ideas...there is a word for this: living. Of course it's scary, but if you let fear win, if you build a habit of quitting, then you are robbing yourself of the chance to fully experience what you were born to experience. Fear keeps lots of otherwise capable humans from crossing the thresholds life places before them, from knowing the kind of transcendent satisfaction that comes with movement.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.

 

Indolence: lethargy, laziness, lifelessness. Blech.

Imagine that moment...where the You you dreamed of being meets the You you were in this life. If you get a sinking feeling in your stomach thinking about that then perhaps it's time to start looking for the doorway.