Driving home from Easter brunch at Ruby Tuesdays (beats cooking), I nudged Charlie into taking a different route home, past a house one street away. (It just went up for sale and I wanted to see the new landscaping.) To get to our house, then, we had to turn up a rarely used side street – which I’d really call an alley, although it’s paved. The gate in the backyard of the house caught my eye.
It was a leftover gate, a rusty old thing; an echo of a fence that once kept kids and dogs in and strangers out. What once served as an exit or an entrance – depending on your direction and your goal – was now an aging reminder in the yard. There was no fence left, no support for the mere existence of that gate. Just the gate.
I’d like to think the homeowners just liked the architectural look.
As usual, that gate triggered a whole thought process, and I was off. Gates are tricky things, I said to Charlie, as I let my thoughts pick their way along.
They’re often of our own making in life. We install gates in nearly everything we do. We place gates around our homes, our lives, our families, our careers, our thinking, our willingness to hear … even our hearts.
Sometimes we don’t install those gates – others do. Many gates are placed by well-meaning parents, by lovers and friends, by enemies and bullies, by churches, by upbringing and beliefs and public opinion.
Some gates are meant to protect, others to intimidate. Some keep others out, some keep us in. Some contain, some exclude.
Some start out as decorative but, as time wears on, the hinges rust, the latch gets contrary, and pretty soon it’s just easier to leave it shut – or open.
I’m reminded of a moment that’s etched into my 20-something memory. In the lunchroom, a friend suggested to me that men didn’t like women who were “too often correct,” the unspoken suggestion being: “Play dumb. Appear to be less capable and smart so you might attract one.” Ouch.
Ah, I didn’t know it then, but there was a gate there. She would have been happy to help me build one just like hers. Under different circumstances, I might have let her. But eventually, that decorative gate would have created a person who had no idea who she was.
I love gates. I love that little, lonely, rusting gate across the street. Not only because it reminds me of history and childhoods and unique old craftsmanship, but because it reminds me that gates offer choices. See, we have the choice of lifting the latch and going through – to whatever might be out there – or leaving it shut and staying in the comfort of what’s familiar.
That’s a choice we get to make every day, at every gate, along every path. Whether the gate you stand before is one you set up yourself or one that’s just always been there, it’s still a choice. It’s always a choice.
When we encounter gates, we look past them at the landscape, at the activity, at the world beyond. Sometimes we’re afraid, and sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we’re happy at being on this side, and sometimes we’re stirred to walk through – because what’s out there either smiles and beckons to us or stands with feet apart and fists clenched, the hostility palpable. What’s there calls us to come out and play or implores us to join the fray or dares us to try. What’s beyond the gate may seem sunny and bright or shrouded in mists and darkness.
If we’ve been particularly good at building gates – or we’ve just become used to the gates others put up for us – it’s a hard choice, indeed.
So as I consider gates, my mind wanders to a friend who, as I write, is in the midst of leaving behind a gated life – one that she’d known for years. She’s striking out on her own. I am in awe of her bravery. Some days she feels brave and confident and some days she feels overwhelmed. But she exercises her choices every time. It has to be a frightening, exhilarating, traumatic, thrilling time.
For all of us, there’s opportunity, there’s authenticity, there’s so much beyond our gates. We may pass through for a visit or for good. We may choose to not pass through today, but change our minds tomorrow. We may be satisfied on this side of the gate or we may feel a gnawing sense that there’s something more out there.
My neighbor’s gate will forever be a symbol – the only thing stopping me from moving through is my own choice. Besides, there’s no fence on either side. I could just walk around.