The knob from the door between our garage and our house sticks. If I don’t turn it hard, I can’t open it.
My tween daughter stands at the shut door, thumping her trumpet case against it. Her hands are full. Between the case, the ipad bag, lunch bag, and backpack, turning the door knob is beyond her capabilities.
My younger daughter bangs at it, frustrated and often in tears, because she can’t turn the handle.
I’ve had problems getting into the house and getting out of the house because of this sticking handle.
Clearly, the doorknob has issues.
Yesterday, as I carried in the Walmart shopping bags, I had difficulties once more. I had one bag in my left hand and a bottle of craft paint in the right. A small bottle of maroon paint that cost me fifty cents—surely I could hold it with three fingers and turn that knob, too.
Sighing, I transferred the bottle to my left hand and tried again. The knob turned. Not easily, but it turned.
As I settled my bags on the counter, I realized that our difficulties with the door are a bit like the difficulties with relationships, specifically relationships with people different from us.
Many times, there’s a wall between myself and others. Differences in race, gender, culture, beliefs—these are natural walls (though natural and healthy are not necessarily synonyms), some of which cannot come down. (I can’t change my race, for example.)
But there are doors available. All I have to do is turn the handle, open the door, and walk through the door frame.
But I’m stuck. The knob won’t turn.
I’m holding something in my hand, something I don’t want to drop.
It may be a huge load, like my daughter staggering up the stairs to the garage door with her school paraphernalia. A load as big as a mountain and as impossible to move on my own:
Or it may seem like a small, insignificant thing, like my cheap paint that I think is vital to my art project. I need this, I thought, I need maroon paint.
A tiny root of unforgiveness.
A trace of irritability.
A preconceived idea of what another person will say or how she will respond. These are the types of ideas that squeeze the actual response into my mold of expectations, and as a result, I’m not truly listening. I’m hearing what I want to hear, whether or not I’ll admit it.
These can seem small and insignificant, even justifiable.
It’s not that I haven’t forgiven that person, I’ll tell myself, it’s that I need to remember what she did to me so I can protect myself. Healthy boundaries, right? (True enough, but I don’t have to keep anger and resentment along with that memory.)
It’s not that I’m actually angry, I’ll tell myself and God, it’s that I’m . . . passionate about justice. That’s good, right? You hate injustice, right? This really is righteous anger, right? (Righteous anger? After I slandered the unjust person to everyone I know, including a couple of people I don’t know—cut him down to size because he had it coming to him, you know!—just to make myself look better? Who am I fooling?)
It’s not that I have preconceived ideas, I’ll tell myself, I’m just very observant. Perceptive. I met a person exactly like this before, and that person responded this way, so it’s likely that this person will respond the same way! (As if any person is exactly the same as another. As if we’re not all individuals, capable of breaking expectations and surprising others.)
Even these “small” things make the knob impossible to turn.
Indira Gandhi said,
“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”
What if I dropped what I held in my hand? Let it slip, fall, tumble down the stairs, shatter on the concrete floor: what would happen?
I would freely grasp the knob.
Turn the handle.
Open the door.
Walk through the door frame.
Enter another person’s life.