A very little key will open a very heavy door. Charles Dickens
I’m learning persistence and the closing of doors, the way the seasons come and go as I keep walking on these roads, back and forth, to find myself in new time zones, new arms with new phrases and new goals. Charlotte Eriksson
Sometimes life presents us with the challenge of choosing between doors, not knowing what awaits us on the other side. Once a door is opened, there may be no going back. Making that choice and stepping through takes courage, faith, and hope.
“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”
In an ancient village, many moons ago, the Elders held a bi-annual ritual that was considered both sacred and secret. Only men and women of great valor were invited to attend the Ceremony of the Nine Doors. Twice a year, members of the village would brace themselves for the news that came from the village crier at cock’s crow. The news was an invitation to specific members to join the procession of Elders who took that journey to the King’s palace for their initiation into the Order of the Ceremony of the Nine Doors. How did the selection process take place? Why were some men/women of valor chosen while others were cast aside as if their acts of courage were an embarrassment to the community? In the quiet of the night, as families huddled around the communal fire, roasting crickets and yams, the Elders whispered among themselves about this great ceremony that measured a member’s true dedication to the village.
For eons, Uzo, a local girl wise beyond her years, observed the comings and goings of the Elders. She longed to learn the secrets of the ceremony and particularly of the selection process. Her grandfather was a member of the Order but her father, who was a skilled hunter and coco yam farmer, hadn’t made the cut. Why? Why not? Whenever she ventured to ask the question at family gatherings in the Obi, her father would scold her for meddling in adult conversations.
“But Papa, you are a man of great valor and I don’t know why they won’t pick you!” She said to her father, one chilly Harmattan night as the family huddled together by the bonfire as the logs crackled sending smoke and sparkling ember into the air.
“It is not your place to query the decision of the Elders.” he scolded her gently. His voice softened a bit when his second wife repeated the same statement with anguish in her voice.
Grandpa cleared his throat and, for the first time in many years, weighed in. “It is not that your father is lacking in honorable qualities my child…” He paused and then continued, “You see, one must first serve without expectation of reward, and then, one must hold an intention that blesses and inspires the community.”
Uzo’s eyes lit up. Grandpa had never spoken about the Order before, and this bit of information puzzled her. Even her own father looked surprised. He was about to comment when he was silenced by the gentle touch of his first wife, Nne, Uzo’s mother.
“How can one serve without expectation …? Even during the harvest we look to reap the seeds we sowed.” Uzo said a tad loudly. Her boldness was always a sour point with her mother but, her grandfather admired that quality in her.
“Yes, my child … we do. However, we must let the seeds germinate as we tend to other demands around us. When we surrender our expectation of a bountiful harvest and participate in community activities that uplift others, our harvest will still bear fruit.” said Grandpa in a strong, persuasive voice.
“My Papa has done all those things so, why hasn’t he been chosen? Why does he have to be disgraced each season when the announcements go out? How long must he wait?” Uzo persisted.
Uzo’s Grandpa and father smiled. Her mother, Nne, on the other hand, reached over to silence her seemingly petulant child.
“No, Nne, let her speak. She is a wise child and her questions are lessons to add to the stirring pot of life.” Grandpa admonished his daughter-in-law, and she sat back and let Uzo be. He continued his teachings for the gathering of family members and neighbors who showed up to listen and learn, as they sat around that cold, night fire.
“My child, in our village, we follow the teachings of the nine virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance. Each virtue has many parts and as a man/woman explores and expresses an understanding of each one, the village observer notes their progress through the Griots who then pass the name on to the other Elders in the Order. Once the first eight are mastered, the test to master the ninth virtue begins…. Without perseverance, even the most talented will falter and fall. But Perseverance alone is not enough because many fall victim to the voice of doubt that creeps in after many moons of waiting, hoping and longing…”
“If there is something more to learn beyond perseverance, what would it be, Grandpa?” Uzo interrupted her Grandpa excitedly. Finally, she thought, an answer to the secret would be divulged tonight and she’d be able to put her curiosity to bed and help her Papa join the village Elders for the next procession. Even her Papa was pleased as he often wondered too, but held his opinions close to his chest.
Grandpa smiled and, picking up the fire pick, he stirred the burning embers to get them fired up again. Everyone in the Obi was silent. You could cut the cold night air with a knife. The crickets stopped their song, and even the hoot, hoot of the night owls seemed to fade away. Everyone waited with bated breath for Grandpa’s next insight. He knew what they wanted and he let them sit and simmer. They all needed to digest the pithy nuggets of wisdom he had shared, to stew in it a bit, and he would speak only when the words came fully to his throat from his heart. There was no other way to speak.
After what seemed like an interminable length of time, Grandpa smiled and looking around at each eager face staring at him across the bonfire, he stared back and sent each one a blessing filled with healing and good intention. Again, he spoke.
“My wise child, beyond perseverance is surrender. When we wake up in the morning, we offer our oblations to the ancestors without much thought of how we got out of bed or how we walked to the outhouse to relieve ourselves of last night’s feast. We perform our actions because we have surrendered our innate desire to control them. They have become second nature and so all goes accordingly.” Grandpa paused, picked up his metal cup and poured the dregs of palm wine into the now smouldering fire. He mumbled a prayer and continued.
“So, my child, by the same token, Perseverance and Surrender are twins on the road to true, inner freedom. When your Papa reaches that point of no return, the last door will open from within and he will no longer be bound by the dictates of the Village Crier… When that moment arrives, the ancestral divination of his membership in the Order … or not, will be realized. When we take the time to pay attention to what is in front of us, our world view and opportunity for growth will expand. Some have eyes but cannot see! Let us all be grateful for the here and now and allow the unfolding of life to continue.” Grandpa rubbed his hands together and, standing up, announced it was time to turn in for the night.
At that moment, Uzo, her father, her mother, and the gathering of family and neighbors got the message. Being present in the actions and activities of the here and now carried enormous gravitas and that was enough for them.
“Good night Grandpa. Thank you!” Uzo finally spoke and then followed her parents to their hut for the night. A new day awaited and before the early morning cock crowed, they needed to get their rest.
This post was inspired by a WordPress Prompt: Discover Challenge: The Story Behind a Door