essays kaddish in two-part harmony

the doors

I live for the doors. I wait for them. It’s an exercise in great patience. Endurance even. First off, however, this is not a post about Jim Morrison. Though it could be. He walked through these doors as well.

So. I wait for doors. Wait for them to open. I watch them start to shut. I watch people try to pry them open. I watch people ignore them. Ask for do-overs. Take-backs. I watch people finally notice that they missed a door.

I don’t believe in doors, however. I don’t expect them. I don’t have faith that they’ll open for me or for anybody else, either. I just see them when they (finally) appear. And I hate it when people bang on the door. I think it’s rude. But I don’t say anything. I sit back and watch. It’s a disaster, of course. How could it not be a disaster?

Once I waited for five years before I saw a door open and it was time to walk on through.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about clarity. About not acting, until you know (and this is how I phrase it) without a shadow of a doubt that it’s time to act. Or move. Or change. Something. It has to be that clear. If it’s not that clear, then the door hasn’t opened. And maybe it never will.

Doors have been opening like crazy recently. And it’s the first time I’ve ever been daunted. The doors have never opened to vistas like these before. I look through to the other side, and everything is vivid, brighter than real-life. Like Dorothy opening the farmhouse door and finding Oz. Like Alice finally unlocking the door to Wonderland. They both could have just stayed at home and skipped the big adventure, right? Nothing would have shifted for them. Except their consciousness.

My question is why? Why do they walk on through?

And why do I? I thought I already had my quota of doors (along with my quota of just about everything else). I was running around shutting and latching both doors and windows, battening down for a storm. I was shape-shifting: Wasn’t Dorothy anymore. This was Auntie Em, just holding down the black-and-white fort.

And that was fine. I can do Auntie Em. My daughter’s turn to do Dorothy, right? She’s the one heading for Oz these days.

But, oops. Somebody screwed up somewhere. Like in one of those Twilight Zone episodes where the people discover that they’re no more than dollies that some alien brought home for the children to play with. And the kid decided to move the dolls around a completely different way. Or, quite literally, block up some doors and set down some others in some new, random, or unexpected places.

That’s what life feels like now.

This happened to my grandfather when my nona slammed the door. She divorced him (after a lifetime of threats) at the age of past-seventy, and got a court order to enforce it. Amazing that she managed it with so little English. Her problem with him was that he took care of everything. He shopped. He cooked. He paid the bills. He knew the language. And she felt kept. She wanted Vegas. (Really. I’m not kidding). She wanted what she knew was out there. She saw it all right before her, right there on her TV.

So. She divorced him. She changed the locks. And he found himself an inexpensive retirement home and put himself there. And he fell in love. For the first time in his life. My nona had opened a door and kicked him through it. And there he was: happy. His girlfriend was African-American. They were one brown egg, one white egg: they were two of a kind. He blushed. She blushed. They held hands. They were completely happy.

My nona barricaded her own door. Lots of locks and chains. And then at some point maybe she figured out that she couldn’t read the labels of her meds. She couldn’t read or write. And he had handled everything. Lesson to self: don’t ever be dependent. The fire department came and battered down that barricaded door after neighbors had complained. It was that smell of decomposition. A terrible American death. Alone. Not reaching out to anyone. And no one reaching out to her.

I’m obsessed with the contrasting deaths of my grandparents. Maybe it’s where my little door metaphor got its start. Not sure. But the lesson sure was clear. One door slammed. One door opened. My grandpa by that time was very ill. But he died much happier than he had ever been in years.


Because of my grandpa, I’ve always known that walking through the door when it opens is the way to go. I just thought though that that was it: no more doors. Khallas, and now I’m done. Only so many doors per customer, right? And I’ve had my fair share. So, why hadn’t I really learned my grandfather’s lesson? That doors can appear right up until the very end and past a new beginning.

The doors keep opening when you least expect them. They laugh at you. They chortle. Snort and tap their toes. Waiting, watching you. Judging, maybe, even. Do you hesitate? Do you stand there at the threshold? Do you hang on to the doorknob and try to swing both ways? And when you see it closing, do you try to rush on through? And when the lock clicks back into place do you then beg and plead or do you let it go?

Door opens. I walk on through.

I live for such moments.

They’re rare enough, god knows.

And each time I pass across that miraculous threshold, I catch a glimpse of my grandparents — one on each side —

Sarah Castro Camhi of Salonica, Greece
My nona, who lived in joy
who laughed and delighted in the details of the universe
who sang with zills and castanets,
played cards, bred fish, believed TV —
She died alone in sorrow.

Jack Camhi (Yakov Kimhi) of Monastir, Macedonia
My grandpa, who lived a life raging against the bosses
who played oud and mandolin and sang ladino songs
who resisted with every fibre of his being
ever believing that he could be wrong
My grandpa. He died a happy man.

Thank you for your terrible gift. Of doors given and doors taken. I miss you both every single day.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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