The house was built up around the doorway, not the other way around. Much like how paved roads developed from foot paths, it was easier to follow the path of least resistance, or the path that was most efficient.
That doorway had been an arch, a gateway to an elevated position. It worked a change in status, a never going back. Those who walked across that threshold were forever transformed.
Was it the place itself that caused the transformation, or the act of it? Was simply walking up those steps and under the arch enough of the sign – a decision made and cemented by the physical act? Or was there something to the years of bare feet crossing this threshold with the same firm intention, the same true heart? Like water wearing a groove in a river bed, the channel simply grew deeper and more sure, more able to hold true to its path.
For centuries there was just this place. No steps, no archway – and certainly no door or walls. Nobody questioned it. It was never used accidentally or irreverently. But then times changed. People moved away from the village. Customs were not passed down intact. Things that adults took for granted as fact were not taught to the children. They assumed they knew, forgetting or never realizing their own quiet and subtle indoctrination.
Ways of being together in community, the ways that marked each group as separate and distinct, weren’t automatic. They could not be presumed to be known. They required careful and deliberate teaching, but not the overt kind. You couldn’t teach someone how you lived together the same way you’d teach the rules of the road or a language. No, that teaching was hidden in the unspoken language, through tone, through how you held your body, through the look on your face. That was taught in the under-language, but it still must be taught.
Had the communication breakdown happened when the families became decentralized? New couples moved away from hometowns, in search of jobs or change. Both wife and husband worked instead of just one, because there were so many more things they had to buy. If they’d stayed put they could have gotten family to help instead of having to hire it out to strangers. Babysitting or home repair weren’t cheap, and caused a strain on already meager resources.
Or had the transmission of culture disintegrated because of the influx of others from elsewhere? While one group of couples left, another came to fill in the gap, both in search of greener pastures, not realizing that one person‘s trash was indeed another one’s treasure.
Perhaps it was a bit of both, or something more. No matter, the fact was a fact – and the fact was that the majority of the town didn’t know the whys and the wherefore of the village’s unique tradition. Rather than have someone accidentally be changed, the older villagers chose to enclose the area, to make it impossible to cross unless the initiate was truly ready. It wouldn’t do to have someone accidentally become something they weren’t ready for.
And what exactly happened at that gateway? What did initiates become? They were not given a new title or a new name. Their new membership in this unique club was never notarized. There were no meetings, fees, or dues. But there was most certainly a change that came over them, a palpable difference. Perhaps it was the lightness of the heart, or a twinkling of the eye, but they were different.
Once they crossed that threshold they ceased being alone. All fear left them, all doubt, all pain. Once they crossed over they were not the same person because they were more than just a person. They were joined, made whole, reunited. They were one with the Creator. It was Nirvana. It was heaven on earth. It was Zen. Sure, they still carried water and chopped wood. It wasn’t like they sat around all day thinking about God. They didn’t have to. Once they crossed over, they shared the mind of God, which was even better. There was no need to stop working, because work itself became a delight, a way to yoke action with thought – a way to bring forth God’s light into the world.
But why wall this up? Why put a doorway? Wouldn’t everyone want this bliss, this grace,? It turned out that the person had to be prepared and willing to accept this change. Otherwise it was like trying to move a dozen people into an efficiency apartment. There was no room for you to move around, no space to think or rest. Unprepared, a newly expanded person often went mad. Some had delusions of grander, when in reality they weren’t even adequate. Some thought they were God. Some thought they were Moses, or Elijah, or Jesus. The mental hospitals and homeless shelters in the big city begin to fill up with these lost souls, these broken vessels, because the people of the village shunned them. They didn’t know what had happened, didn’t know that these people had crossed through the gateway prematurely, unready, unknowing. All the villagers knew was that they suddenly had strangers in their midst, people who looked like their friends and neighbors but acted like aliens. They no longer fit inside their bodies or community, so they left, pushed out. A village this small could not function with people that broken. So to prevent further losses, the elders made the gateway into a sanctuary, a shrine, unlocked only on ember days and solstices. Those who had already become whole would wait inside on those days and welcome their newest members.
Not everyone crossed the threshold. Not everyone wanted to. Not everyone was up to it. Not everyone knew what it was. But for those who crossed, their lives were never the same again.
Written mid November 2017