On Doors by Christopher Darlington Morley
The opening and closing of doors are the most significant actions of
man's life. What a mystery lies in doors!
No man knows what awaits him when he opens a door. Even the most
familiar room, where the clock ticks and the hearth glows red at dusk,
may harbor surprises. The plumber may actually have called (while you
were out) and fixed that leaking faucet. The cook may have had a fit of
the vapors and demanded her passports. The wise man opens his front
door with humility and a spirit of acceptance.
Which one of us has not sat in some ante-room and watched the
inscrutable panels of a door that was full of meaning? Perhaps you were
waiting to apply for a job; perhaps you had some “deal” you were
ambitious to put over. You watched the confidential stenographer flit
in and out, carelessly turning that mystic portal which, to you,
revolved on hinges of fate. And then the young woman said, “Mr.
Cranberry will see you now.” As you grasped the knob the thought
flashed, “When I open this door again, what will have happened?”
There are many kinds of doors. Revolving doors for hotels, shops and
public buildings. These are typical of the brisk, bustling ways of
modern life. Can you imagine John Milton or William Penn skipping
through a revolving door? Then there are the curious little slatted
doors that still swing outside denatured bar-rooms and extend only from
shoulder to knee. There are trapdoors, sliding doors, double doors,
stage doors, prison doors, glass doors. But the symbol and mystery of a
door resides in its quality of concealment. A glass door is not a door
at all, but a window. The meaning of a door is to hide what lies
inside; to keep the heart in suspense.
Also, there are many ways of opening doors. There is the cheery push
of elbow with which the waiter shoves open the kitchen door when he
bears in your tray of supper. There is the suspicious and tentative
withdrawal of a door before the unhappy book agent or peddler. There is
the genteel and carefully modulated recession with which footmen swing
wide the oaken barriers of the great. There is the sympathetic and
awful silence of the dentist's maid who opens the door into the
operating room and, without speaking, implies that the doctor is ready
for you. There is the brisk cataclysmic opening of a door when the
nurse comes in, very early in the morning—“It's a boy!”
Doors are the symbol of privacy, of retreat, of the mind's escape
into blissful quietude or sad secret struggle. A room without doors is
not a room, but a hallway. No matter where he is, a man can make
himself at home behind a closed door. The mind works best behind closed
doors. Men are not horses to be herded together. Dogs know the meaning
and anguish of doors. Have you ever noticed a puppy yearning at a shut
portal? It is a symbol of human life.
The opening of doors is a mystic act: it has in it some flavor of
the unknown, some sense of moving into a new moment, a new pattern of
the human rigmarole. It includes the highest glimpses of mortal
gladness: reunions, reconciliations, the bliss of lovers long parted.
Even in sadness, the opening of a door may bring relief: it changes and
redistributes human forces. But the closing of doors is far more
terrible. It is a confession of finality. Every door closed brings
something to an end. And there are degrees of sadness in the closing of
doors. A door slammed is a confession of weakness. A door gently shut
is often the most tragic gesture in life. Every one knows the seizure
of anguish that comes just after the closing of a door, when the loved
one is still near, within sound of voice, and yet already far away.
The opening and closing of doors is a part of the stern fluency of
life. Life will not stay still and let us alone. We are continually
opening doors with hope, closing them with despair. Life lasts not much
longer than a pipe of tobacco, and destiny knocks us out like the
The closing of a door is irrevocable. It snaps the packthread of the
heart. It is no avail to reopen, to go back. Pinero spoke nonsense when
he made Paula Tanqueray say, “The future is only the past entered
through another gate.” Alas, there is no other gate. When the door is
shut, it is shut forever. There is no other entrance to that vanished
pulse of time. “The moving finger writes, and having writ”—
There is a certain kind of door-shutting that will come to us all.
The kind of door-shutting that is done very quietly, with the sharp
click of the latch to break the stillness. They will think then, one
hopes, of our unfulfilled decencies rather than of our pluperfected
misdemeanors. Then they will go out and close the door.