We are all familiar with the saying, “When one door closes another door opens,” and how handily we use it to encourage someone who has just been through an ending of a job, a relationship, or death of someone. This saying is attributed to both Alexander Graham Bell and Helen Keller, but it’s the rest of the saying that is well worth paying attention to: “but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” At this time of year, we could say that the door of summer closes, and the door of fall opens. We’ve all experienced it many times—some years easier than others—happy to have the kids back in school, other years sad with the empty nest left behind. For some of us, we may be happy to return to a more regular schedule of work and activities; for others the regular schedule may mean more stress.
Then there are the exits, even if by choice, that can intimidate and shock us right out of balance as we feel a gravitational pull to something new and quite possibly unknown. We are launched into a marginal space that feels quite disorienting. Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, author of Exit: The Endings that Set Us Free, writes:
Exits . . . are part of our biological, emotional, and social trajectories, part of the fabric and shape of our life journeys, projecting us forward, helping us evolve as developing human beings . . . If we are able to successfully exit this stage, this place, this identity, we will be able to see and seize the shape and opportunities of the next chapter.
Dr. Lawrence Lightfoot suggests that an exit is a prelude to something new—a space that allows us time for reflection upon the shape of our life journey and a time for finding clues that suggest how to go forward. Pat Schneider, in her poem "Instructions for the Journey" paints a picture of this prelude space and offers where we can look for opening doors:
The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
Politicians, cataclysms, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.
And if all that fails,
Wash your own dishes.
Stand in your kitchen at your sink.
Let cold water run between your fingers.
As I prepare to retire at the end of this year, I am facing an exit of major importance in my life. According to the experts, I’ve done all the right things to get ready such as getting finances and estate plan in order. So why am I still so worried about this exit scenario? Retirement seems to have arrived all of a sudden, yet I’ve waited a long time for it. I think I will take the advice in this poem and look for my “wet, raw unfinished self” (which I’ve seen before in other exits) and listen for the bells that herald the dawn. And if all that fails, yes, I will turn to the ordinary that I know even if it is as simple as letting cold water run between my fingers.
What exit are you facing? Can you reframe this exit and see it as preparation for something new? Where is your quiet, secluded place to be as honest as you can manage and quiet enough to sense God’s grace? Doing this makes all the difference in the prelude from one exit to a new beginning.
Betsy Perry, RN, MPH, will be presenting the workshop "A Truer Self through Listening to Your Life" at the 6th International Conference for Ageing and Spirituality."