On the Ubiquity of Portals


We open and close them every day with neither thought nor attention to the transitions they facilitate.

Their ubiquitous presence in the topography of everyday life renders them invisible. Yet they structure our experiences of space and time—creating the necessary discontinuities for inhabiting the former and the essential continuities for enduring the latter.

As the externalized markers of our internal partitions, doors allow us to humanize the world: to cut living spaces from an undifferentiated nature and to designate unique domains for human activity. Every door signifies an entry to (and also an escape from) a sphere of human action, whether private or public: beyond this threshold is where I sleep; beyond this threshold is where I eat; beyond this threshold is where I pray; beyond this threshold is where I suffer; beyond this threshold is where I can be myself—where I can use the barriers of wood, brick, concrete or steel as a second skin around my exposed and exhausted self.

As the internalized symbols of our exterior limits, doors allow us to narrate our lives: to serve as metaphors that signify the plurality of our choices, the opacity of our futures and the irrevocability of our pasts. Every door designates an entry to (and also an exit from) a chapter in our history, whether personal or collective: behind that threshold was my childhood; behind that threshold lies my innocence; behind that threshold was another life; behind that threshold was a life with another; in front of this threshold is the life I want to live—where I can end the traversal of endless corridors and find that I’ve, at last, “arrived.”

And, of course, like all human constructs, doors bear their double function simultaneously, so that geography becomes history and space unfolds time.

Yet doors also serve another purpose, operative in the literal and metaphorical realms. Whether in the world or in our minds, they can abet, aid, assist, enable, facilitate and welcome; or they can bar, exclude, forbid, hinder, obstruct and restrict. Doors “lead to” as much as “protect from”; they invite access and they allow escape.

Ultimately, doors symbolize the multidimensional wholeness of human beings. The constant fragmentation of our lives into compartments that resist fusion is not the final word. In the end, the primal permeability that doors provide allows synthesis to emerge—from schizophrenia.


* This essay with ten of the accompanying photographs was originally published as “Doors” in Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture, Volume XII, Numbers 2 & 3, 2008.



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