Closed Doors, Open Eyes

I’m always happy to lean on the wisdom of those I love and respect. Even if I learn only one thing, that one thing can be transformative, it can totally reshape or reframe how I think about something in my personal world, or in the wider world.

I can think of a few things that have become — or surely will become — bedrock notions of how I look at the world. And more important, of how I want to behave in it. The first is something my husband shared with me a few years ago, viz, you never know what goes on behind closed doors. It came up in the context of my evincing surprise about a neighbor’s divorce. I’m sure it was in reaction to my saying something like, “it never seemed like anything was amiss.” To which my husband rightly replied that you never know what goes on behind closed doors. In the years since, I’ve been able to take that wise, straightforward observation and apply it in more contexts than I can count. Perhaps the most important is in my own home life.

As the parent of a child with complex needs, it’s been clear to me for a good long time that no one knows what goes on behind our closed doors. If they did, they might evince shock, surprise, amazement, even horror. I guess it would depend on what they saw, how they understood what was immediately in front of them, whether and how they had any knowledge of what came before, and what kind of judgment they attached to all of that. But still, no one really knows what goes on behind someone else’s closed door(s). And why.

Related to that is something exquisite and profound that my eldest shared at the graveside funeral for my mom, z’l. After acknowledging that she was the funniest person in our family, my son shared something that caught my breath in my throat. He said that his grandmother never judged anyone. And that he thought that came from her having been judged so much herself. It was at once crushing and extraordinary to hear that, to know that my son had paid such close attention to his grandmother (unbeknownst to me), and gleaned something so profound from what he observed. In that moment, I felt great pride. But also some measure of shame for not having understood or perceived it myself. It was a gift to have my son share that wisdom out loud, but it immediately made me think of all I might have sacrificed, of all I might have lost, in not having understood that about my mother until that moment.

Rather than being a case of better late than never, my son’s words were a potent reminder to me of my own shortcomings, of my own inability to suspend judgment. I know that I can and must do better in this regard, but I also believe that there are some things that merit judgment, that emanate from something deeply ugly in some human beings, and that not judging those things would be a dereliction of my duty as a human being. So as with many things, embedded in the gorgeous truth of my son’s observation lay a nugget of something complex, something that cannot easily be reduced to just this or that.

In life, we often think we see something with clarity, until we start unpacking our vision and realize what is veiled, what is shrouded, and what is even deeply hidden within. It is as true with relationships whose dynamics we literally cannot observe as it is with lives lived in ways that absorb hurt, not meting it out in kind, but deflecting in some ways toward something where hurt cannot be replicated. But even then, not always, not perfectly. Sometimes, hurt seeps out in ways that are unexpected, and it flows toward destinations intended and not. Maybe that’s what happens in unraveling marriages as well. Things get deflected, until there’s no longer anywhere for those “things” to go. The spaces in which we live our lives are, after all, finite. So those things will start crashing into one another, bouncing off of walls and windows, ricocheting back toward the people who launched them, doing sometimes slight, other times profound, damage. Until the suspension of judgment is no longer possible. And the doors open onto a different world.

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Nina Mogilnik

Thinker, Writer, Advocate, Mom of Kids with special needs, Dog Lover, Wife, Partner, Orphan