“I can only show you the door. You have to walk through it.”
~ Morpheus, The Matrix
Life is a series of doorways, each leading into the future. Fear and complacency try to convince us not to go through one; complacency and arrogance try to convince us that there’s no need to go through another.
Either way, once we go through, there’s no going back. All we can do is be careful which doors we choose to open, and learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them.
Here’s a deeper look, excerpted from my book Proverbial Beauty:
Fortunate is the man who listens for me, attentively waiting at my doors day by day, keeping watch by the doorposts of my entryways (Proverbs 8:34).
In the language of Solomon, a doorway symbolizes a point of transition, a threshold of spiritual growth, and an opportunity not only to realize but to increase one’s personal potential. And so wisdom says, as it were: “None is more fortunate than those who listen to me, who learn my ways and commit themselves to my principles, who wait eagerly and attentively for every opportunity to rise to the challenges demanded by moral discipline, who do not rest on their laurels but follow every moral victory by hastening to the next ‘entranceway’ and waiting for the next ‘door’ of opportunity to open up for them.”
It sounds a simple formula, but although “change” may make an effective campaign slogan, human nature deplores change and yearns for the status quo. For many, nothing is more frightening than the unknown that lies on the other side of the next “door.” And human creativity knows no bounds in its efforts to avoid knocking at the doors life places in our path.
In the mythical town of Khelm, the synagogue beadle would rise at dawn each morning to go around the town, knocking on doors to rouse the parishioners for the morning prayer service.
Years went by, and as the beadle grew older it became increasingly difficult for him to make the rounds. One winter, after a particularly heavy snowfall, he told the synagogue elders that he would be unable to make it out the next morning to knock on doors.
The wise men of Khelm convened an emergency meeting. Without the beadle to knock on the doors of the townspeople, there was no way to ensure that they would have the requisite quorum of ten men for the morning service. But appointing a replacement also posed a problem. For one thing, the beadle had served the community loyally for decades, and it seemed unappreciative to unceremoniously remove him from his post. For another, it was difficult to think of a replacement as reliable and trustworthy as the beadle had been.
After lengthy consideration, the wise men finally devised a solution. No replacement would be necessary after all. Instead, they hired workers to remove the doors from all the homes in the town and line them up in the beadle’s house. The next morning, the beadle rose at his usual time, knocked on every door without having to leave the comfort of his home, and then went back to bed.
Even if we make it through one doorway, our problems are still not over. For just as fear and self-interest are eager to turn us back before we pass through any given door, arrogance and complacency are waiting to pounce upon us after we make it to the other side, urging us to be satisfied with what we have achieved and warning us not to risk what we have by trying to accomplish something more.
Of course, the most successful deceptions are the ones closest to the truth. There is always risk in aspiring to greatness, and reaching for the unattainable is as certain a recipe for failure as not attempting to reach at all.
This is why we find some doors closed to us. It is for our own benefit that fate may bar us from pursuing the most appealing pathways: those ways could lead to crippling failures if we tried to follow them, or else leave us giddy with pride and quash further opportunities for success.
No one ever said life was simple. Only through self-reflection, sincere introspection, and seeking counsel from the wise can we hope to choose rightly and wisely. If we make every effort to push ourselves to the limits of our potential without giving in to impulse or ego, more often than not we can expect to succeed in our endeavors. And if we find that some doors remain closed to us, with perseverance we will discover that other doors open to lead us toward the same, or better, destinations.