I stand in the doorway this bright, blue sky morning, holding open the screen door so that nothing comes between me and the young man outside with telltale pamphlets tucked under his right arm. Smiling awkwardly with his silver-braced teeth and acne, he greets me with practiced lines and hints of nervous eagerness.
“Hello!” he chirps. “How are you?”
“Hi,” I reply, “I’m fine. How’re you?”
“I am well, thank you. I have some magazines here for you to read, if you’d like…” he trails off as I politely cut him short. I am familiar enough with Watchtower News and Awake! to know I am not interested in prolonging his discomfort and our conversation. I send him on his way back down the icy driveway to the dark sedan that awaits, older couple in the front seat – his parents perhaps, or Witness elders. They back out and drive to the next house.
Instead of feeling relief, I hesitate and pause to wonder: was I too hasty? Why not invite him in and hear what he has to say. Rather than supposing a one-way conversation, I could have offered the benefit of doubt, made my assumption charitable. Why not entertain the possibility of dialogue, and if it didn’t materialize, then I could say goodbye knowing I stood open, and listened.
It is not unusual to have strangers rap on the door here, and that’s heartening – real world places still exist for strangers to ask for invitation and to receive it. How easy it is to keep the door closed, to ignore a request for connection as our inboxes are overflowing and our bills are mounting – we’ve got pressures to parse and stress to manage. But what if something meaningful was behind that knock? What if relief lies just outside our door?
When I’ve turned that doorknob, kind people, always, are on the other side, trying to make their way in the world, just like I am: a woman looking for a friend’s house, someone wanting to buy the truck in the driveway, or a man wanting to lease the back fields for farming. We rely on each other to show us the way when we’re lost, to offer financial opportunity when we are in need, or to join in a new, sustaining venture. The can-do attitude is alive and active here, and in a climate of economic scarcity and struggle, old-fashioned grassroots door-to-door isn’t just a way of making a living or promoting a cause, but of connecting to the people around us – it can pick us up and remind us that we are all in the same boat, if we would just stop putting different names on them. In true exchange at my dining room table, I might find income, friendship, community, or just simple human contact with someone I wouldn’t meet otherwise in our tight-knit circles. The world would get simultaneously larger and smaller.
I remember sitting at my back porch table years ago and my roommate, T, was writing out a mission statement. I had never heard of such a thing before, so she detailed its whys and hows to me, and of course I wanted one, too. At my last job, the mission statement was an important tool, a measure of the space between who we said we were and how we were actually operating. Whenever I faced conflict or dilemma, I asked what stance or action would best serve that mission statement. Clarity almost always swept in on those wings. Now that I’m creating a new paradigm for my life, one where everything underscores my integrity, truth, and desires – no more clocking-in-clocking-out jobs, no more being who you want me to be, no more swallowing bitter pills of the cults of consumerism, conformity or competition – I must distill my belief system down to one guiding star. Easy? Try drawing a straight line without a ruler. Then pull out that microscope and look even closer…
Once I write it, I wonder, will I be drawn to knock on doors to spread the word? Probably not, but I empathize with missionary zeal – when you’re full of excitement and clarity don’t you want others to share in your happiness and peace? Perhaps, but I believe it’s better to lead by example, lead by invitation, lead with liveliness and verve, while trusting each other to craft our own routes, or roots, even.
There are many forms of missionaries – diplomatic and religious ones initially come to mind, but don’t overlook the less obvious embodiments that are spreading their worldview, and want us on board their bus: for-profit corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), patriotic nationalists, New Age spiritualists, political ideologues, climate change environmentalists, organic farmers, 2012 Mayan Chicken Littles. It’s not that wanting to share your point of view is good or bad, but we tend to duck when the dogma flies. The end is nigh! Buy now, save later! You’re with us or against us! Save the children!
It is a full spectrum, with chewy morsels on which to ruminate the entire length. I have found usefulness in all platforms. I’ve sought out and worked for a corporation that provided me with health benefits, a stable paycheck and some of the best colleagues I’ll ever know. I’ve participated proudly as an American citizen, and a global one, too. I’ve contributed to and benefited from both governmental programs and NGOs. I’ve embraced capitalism and railed against its bottom-line mentality. I’ve gleaned wisdom from traditional holy books, and rejected chapters that didn’t resonate. The world is dynamic, complex and interwoven – and I find myself choosing more and more the kinds of preachers I want – based not on ideology, but on intention and how I feel when I hear their message. As much can be gleaned from a blade of grass as in the mire of our trillion-dollar deficit. It is not enough to adhere to the saints or the sinners, to the left or the right anymore – I want to run my fingers along the spine of life and feel each bump and valley, the skin that covers it, and the pulse that beats beneath us all.
So I sit and craft words of meaning and truth until I come up with these:
My mission is to listen and obey my intuition, and when I falter, to correct myself with forgiveness and compassion, and treat others with the same. I will practice non-judgment and equanimity. I will unceasingly look to see the positive and I will remember to have as much fun along the way as I can.
It’s a work in progress and in the meantime, I’ll maintain that open door policy. Feel free to knock anytime, come in, and tell me your story. I promise to listen this time.