When I came into this room

by Deborah Gitlitz

When I came into this room, you were already here.

When the fierce winds pushed me in, and the door slammed shut, you looked up from your tables of quiet fellowship and you greeted me.

You know who you are.

I knew who I was. Now I am becoming again.

I never knew the door existed until it suddenly appeared. I had walked by it thousands of times, unaware; and now I hold the key in my hand. That’s how it is. You get the door and the key and the room all at once.

Five years ago I stumbled through the suddenly-there door into this unexpected room of the human house. I came through a doorway of sudden anguish and urgency and terror and hope, I came blown in sideways, and turning around I found this enormous room, already full of people. I was startled to recognize so many faces. You all looked up and you held my gaze.

Many people couldn’t. They were deafened by the shocking shout of “mortality!” echoing around me. They skittered off, frightened of pushing me off the cliff of saying the wrong thing, nervous of the taint of disaster, or feeling, perhaps, that I’d gone somewhere they didn’t know how to go. Maybe I had. Maybe they simply hadn’t been in this room before and they didn’t know the way in. Maybe once I closed the door I vanished from view.

Some friends outside the room were curious and unafraid and stood peering in the doorway I pushed open, trying to see through my eyes.

And then so many of you were already here. You who have walked through your own doors of despair, terror, heartbreak and loss, you held the door for me and touched my hand; you pulled me up a chair, brought me water, and said, “Welcome, friend.”

I knew you were here in this room with me because I could see you see me.

It steadied me, not to be alone here. I have been grateful to have your company, and your witness. There is grace in that. There is a deepening sense of humanness, despite the drenching sorrow and fear.

There are rooms in this human house I will never enter. I won’t get to bear a child. I will not go to war. But for as long as I get to keep living in this body, this life, I hope to find my way to as many rooms as I can. I am an altered person now, smashed open and reshaped. Losing Val has left me lonelier than I have ever been; but in this fellowship of loss, in some ways I am less alone. I have moved deeper into the heart of the human family.

There is always something magical about finding a hidden door, isn’t there?

And here’s a funny thing: For five years, since those first few whirlwind weeks and months, this metaphor has lived with me: the sensation, in shorthand, of slamming up against intractable mortality, and falling through, and finding company there.

And then one day last month, for the very first time, something new occurred to me: that there must be other doors in my metaphorical room. Doors on the other side, leading through grief to somewhere else. Corridors and French doors and windows with low sills. Like my sudden door into grief, I think they simply didn’t exist for me before; and now, hazily, I can start to make out their possibility. And I’m kind of rolling my eyes at my own metaphor here, it seems so clodpolishly obvious; but I swear the room never grew new doors until last month, and it had never once occurred to me that they would be there.

So now I’m walking through the long crowded room of grief, a room that will always be part of my home; and there are doors at the other end. One day I’ll open them. I’ll walk through them. Maybe I’ll find a courtyard: an open space in the human house, where a person can tilt her head back and see the sky.

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