I’ve always loved beautiful doorways.
Especially when they are exterior doors — with one side facing the world and one side inside a private space — I’m forever pulling out a camera or a phone to photograph them. They are, of course, artful ways to say “keep out.”
In biblical times, nomads were considered the most generous when, deep in the desert, they opened their tents on all sides to welcome the stranger. In fact, welcoming the stranger is one of the most valued traits in the lessons of the Old Testament. It is all the more perplexing and, in fact, heartbreaking, that the doors of the biblical land of Israel are among the most beautiful I’ve seen in the world.
In 2012, with six and nine year old daughters at our side, my husband and I went again to Israel. We were the parents of schoolgirls, little girls who took up the bulk of my time and energy. On our first night there, in the midst of a restless, jet lagged sleep, my little daughter woke me. She was disoriented and anxious and, on a whim, I offered her some food. She was, we know now, in the midst of the mysterious meanderings in her chest of an aorta that snaked across her gullet, but that night at 1am, she sat at a foreign table and ate a bagel and cream cheese and a bowl of fruit. Then I wrapped myself around her on the couch and we fell asleep, cheeks flecked with the sticky juice of fresh tomatoes, me wondering if Israel could cure my little one of her tiny, unsatisfying appetite.
The next morning, we took the bus to Ein Kerem, home of Mary’s Spring, home of gelato shops and ruins and desert wildflowers, and every arched doorway seemed full of hope. On this side, desert; on the other side, roses.
We trekked through desert trails and up hills; back in Jerusalem, we walked paved, modern roads and cobblestone paths; we entered our rented apartment through a metal door that felt hot in the afternoon sun. One day in the old city, a scampering group of boys raced past us into a door made of exquisite wrought-iron, labeled “for prayer only,” and we heard the call to worship echo as the gate closed. In every way, whatever was behind that door was not intended for me: a woman, not a Muslim, not a word of Arabic in my head. I didn’t even peek.
In the middle of our trip, we came to the city of the most magnificent doors: Sfat; or Tzfat; or Tsfat; or Safed; the city of mystery and mysticism. What did these doors mean, here, where everything means something? The hills were high, and we traveled with distant cousins whose English was as poor as our Hebrew. I couldn’t ask them about the doors, and maybe they wouldn’t know either. I think of my own hometown, the abundance of painted-lady houses scattered among grand courtyard apartment buildings, all for reasons I’ve never known. What is the history of these styles? I don’t know. Our cousins ambled ahead as I snapped photo after photo after photo of the doorways in Tzfat.
As we return to Israel this summer with daughters suddenly 13 and 17 years old, I am more awake than ever to the genetic memory of tents with open sides and the modern knowledge of regional violence and local fear. I know my children — both of them now healthy and strong — will wake in the night and, perhaps, make their own snacks, return to sleep without my arms around them, and explore ahead on the trail. I will look at the closed doors and gates and wonder not why these are the faces they show to the world, but what beauty is hidden away inside. I’ll wonder less why my traveling companions can’t show me and, I hope, go out after the knowledge on my own. And, the greatest gift of parenting so far, I will arrive after my oldest daughter has explored with other young people for three weeks, and have so much to learn from her that I can sit with her, in or out of one of these beautiful entryways, and find out what she knows. I am the mother of young women, now, who are ready to walk through beautiful doors to places I may or may not ever see.
Doors hold in, and they keep out. I will be photographing everything I can.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, with this week’s photo prompt and word prompt (“Open Door”) provided by the fabulous Mardra of MardraSikora.com and also hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com.