It is no wonder that Virginia Woolf entitled a collection of essays on writing “A Room of One’s Own” since not only does a writer’s room occupy a space all its own, like a creative work or an individual’s life, but it maintains the boundaries of that space with enclosing walls formed at its conception. Only a doorway admits entrance or exit both to the occupant and visitor. And whatever that “room” may be, however modest or grand, private or public, man-made or natural, we leave one room only to enter another which in turn we leave for another. It is this sense of leave-taking that we see played out in our lives and in our occupations, but also in the interior spaces of the imagination as artists and storytellers, scholars, and critics.
In our lives, we pass through places, events, times, and histories, our own history intersecting with others’, passing from one day to the next until time stops. As writers we leave the “real” world with its ready-made structures and demands into a self-created world which may or may not bear a resemblance to any we have known.
But leave-taking in its many forms is not an easy job, and the dynamics of its interplay between the leaving of one room for another creates an uneasy tension.
There is an entrance that must be made and, more often than not, what we see is a closed door. Maybe even locked. Perhaps only slammed shut by an unceremoniously hostile exit echoing with the finality of rejection. It doesn’t matter that you yourself may have slammed it shut, stung by criticism or scorn or frustration at fruitless effort. The closed door dares you to approach it once more and make your entrance.
Then there’s the merry-go-round of choosing between several doors, several worlds, chasing the White Rabbit, entering one, rejecting another (at least for the moment), taking a chance that behind this door the labor will prove productive. Like a game show host asking: Which will it be? Door number one? Or door number two? Let’s go for door number 3. This time.
But what may surprise you there? Or perhaps even disappoint? The desolation of making your fashionably late entrance – only no one’s there. The idea you had been flirting with has taken its leave and the hearth is cold. And the mirror silently screams its reproach for time lost and what cannot be regained.
Consider the horror of taking your leave from the daylight of public life to enter an inner sanctum where private wounds fester and subconscious fears rise, old corpses lie above ground, long-thought buried, only an iron-gray hair remains on the pillow beside the dead carpetbagger, like Miss Emily’s suitor. They may never rest, may never find their peace, but in service to pen and ink, pencil and paper, keyboard or canvas, they can be reviewed and understood and speak their piece. They can oppress no longer, transformed into croaking, belching “real toads in imaginary gardens.”
Or closing the door behind you and turning to find ghosts of lines penned and published crowned in their laurels, preventing new occupants, clanging and banging around every corner until exorcised and cast back into the frames hanging in the hallways of past accomplishments.
Leaving what is behind, the memories, the persistent tugging of daily demands, tensions, stresses, chores left undone, taking leave of them, pressing ahead to pass through that door into that other world that’s waiting, tucked away like a wardrobe into which you quickly hide and find to your surprise a cold wind at your back, a snowfall covering the ground, a lamppost and your Narnia.
Leaving and entering and leaving again. And it does matter how you leave inasmuch as it matters how you live, and why. Why go into that room, that space, that world? Why take the risk that no one else can take for you? “Reason,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is the natural organ of truth; imagination is the organ of meaning.” We yearn to uncover the meaning behind the truth we discover, layer by layer, in hard-won pursuit of what is. The real. The eternal. The immutable. The Alpha and the Omega.
It would be easy to take the cheap, cynical way out even when we falsely believe it to be self-serving – and why not? – But just as Pilate played his cards and uttered the infamous rhetorical “What is truth?” we, like Pilate, say it not to ourselves as we may believe nor even to the cheering crowds but to Truth itself. For Truth as such has one place, one space, one Person in whom it is located and embodied. Here, in the God-man: Christ Jesus who from outside time, left eternity to break into time and space and proclaimed once and for all, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
But he also said, “I am the Door,” that entrance into His eternal dwelling place and he asks us to seek and find and knock because the door will be opened, indeed has been opened through the curtain of his flesh on the Cross and it is in him alone that all doors opened can lead to the consummation which he promises when he says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)
Jean-Paul Sartre described hell as having “no exit,” a hell that begins here, and indeed death functions as an entrance to either hell’s claustrophobic abyss or God’s infinite mansion, a throne-room of eternal wonder and grace. May all the rooms we leave and enter here lead us there.