The first time I saw a Dutch door I was a young mother on vacation with my husband and his family. We stayed at a cute little cottage near the sea, the air thick with salt and damp, flowers and shrubs and greenery growing riotously near the windows and the doors and the walks around the house in a way that is almost impossible in the desert climate we normally inhabit, hydrangea heads heavy in blossom leaning over the sandy paths and flowerbeds, bougainvillea twining itself over breezeways and bowers. The door itself was a startling sky blue, and perfectly suited to letting the clean air in without letting small children out, the upper half swung wide in the early summer sun. For the first time in a long while I felt not only aware of my environment, but immersed in it, surrounded by the sights and smells and sounds of the outside let in.
I have always remembered that door.
Dutch doors are a funny thing. If you have never seen one, take a moment to imagine it. A solid door split in half at the center line, the top separated from the bottom in a way that seems counterproductive for something whose purpose seems to be a wholesale sort of solidity, a guardian and protector, a keeper of some things out and other things in. One door, two parts.
But that is the beauty of it, really. Because a Dutch door not only shelters, it also summons. It can be welcoming (I’ve left part of my door open for you—welcome. Come chat), or it can be a barrier (I am only comfortable opening the top half of my door—I don’t know you well enough to open the entire thing).
With the top half swung open it becomes a leaning in, a welcoming, an invitation. A change in how we look at our environment, our neighborhood, our community.
A method of entering space in a new way.
Maybe I am being overly sentimental. Travel often has that effect on me.
I remember once flying into Philadelphia at night, the startling sense of the vastness of space as I watched an endless sea of lights spread over the world beneath me, the way you could trace roads and rivers and green space in the ebb and flow of light. And the way I felt the next day in the city, surrounded by that same vastness, but in a much more intimate way as I explored shops and walks and spaces, and talked to the people who inhabit them. Two different ways of looking at the same space.
It makes me question—how much does our perspective shape us?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journals, “The universe is a more amazing puzzle than ever, as you glance along this bewildering series of animated forms—the hazy butterflies, the carved shells, the birds, beasts, fishes, insects, snakes, the upheaving principle of life everywhere incipient. I feel the centipede in me, cayman, carp, eagle, fox. I am moved by strange sympathies.” And although I can honestly say I have never ‘felt the centipede in me,’ I am nevertheless moved by his statement. By a sense of wonder and fascination with the world around us, and the way we interact with it.
I wonder how much we would change the way we shape our world if we could continually capture that same sense of amazement. We have spent so long with the door closed that we have forgotten, I think, what it is to look around us. To listen. To be still in silence. To feel surrounded by our neighbors and our friends instead of walled in by solid barriers.
I think, really, that we all need to examine the way we look at the world around us. The way we see.
I can’t help but think that we have listened too long to the voices that tell us we are worth only what we produce, the ones that say something is of value only for what we can gain from it in a material sense. Whether it can be bought or sold. For too long we have ignored the space within ourselves that yearns for connection, for quiet, for community. We have overlooked the worth of things in searching for value. Worth and value—there is a tension there that cannot be easily resolved without changing our perspective, without leaning in a little closer, without noticing the details. Without seeing.
What something is worth is very rarely expressed adequately when that something is assessed for value, when it is measured and commodified and weighed for the gain it could bring. What something is worth is so much more.
I think we could stand more often to be ‘moved by strange sympathies.’ To lean into the pull of the world around us—to look more deeply, to feel more intensely, to open our doors at the end of the day to the fragrant curl of stillness and serenity, to the sound of the neighborhood wrapping around us in the dusky twilight as children run and play in the last few moments of sun, to listen to the hush of the world settling into rest. To wake and revel in the way the light glints and glistens in the dew of early morning. To shiver in the chill of the pale dawn light and the bite of a breeze.
It is past time to open the door and find new spaces. Spaces to speak, spaces to be heard, spaces to act and to advocate and to care, even when sometimes the act of caring itself feels like a rebellion.
I’m sitting in my front room, writing, near my new dutch door, the top swung wide to the world beyond it. A few minutes ago my neighbor walked by and stopped for a chat, arms resting on the edge of the bottom half, leaning into our space for a few minutes. I can hear wind and the birds and the sound of people coming and going through their morning routines.
It seems like such a small thing. But really, the best things often are. The everyday decisions that lead us to better ways of seeing—that open our eyes, and our minds, that show us the ways we separate ourselves from how one life touches another.
The ways we have of simply opening a door.
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