The Houses of Man
Picture a house. Not a real house, but a kind of metaphor-house, the place where your inner life takes place. The rooms inside are furnished with your everyday thoughts, feelings and understandings.
In this particular house, there are secret doors. People can tell you that they’re there, but you never believe them, because you can’t see the doors, or any hint of them. Picture every little boy who has stoutly declared that he would never, ever want to eww, yuck, kiss a little girl. But then one day, maybe you step on certain metaphorical boards in just the right combination, or you lean against a place you never leaned against before — or maybe you just get old enough to finally see it — and a door pops open in a wall that you darned well never suspected of having a door.
Through that door is something new – a spacious and surprising new place. Suddenly there’s more to your life than you ever thought there could be.
My cowboy friend Jay, who invited me to this branding, related one of his own surprise door-openings, triggered by the birth of his son. This tough western fellow, who spent his long, long days riding horses, working cattle, fixing fence, hauling hay, moving sluice gates to and fro in grazing pasture irrigation ditches, and the ten thousand other body-wearying chores that real cowboying entails, woke up on just another morning as one person, but went to bed that night as somebody very different. On this day, a delivery-room nurse handed him his new son… and one of those doors popped open.
An actress in a soapy chick-flick would’ve had better dialogue for describing the tenderness, the protectiveness, the expanded sense of responsibility, the completely new kind of love that my friend told me blossomed within him, but the meaning was the same, and as clearly understood, in the words that he did manage.
How far back must these surprise door-openings go? What do you find if you travel back to the earliest part of your life? Somewhere back there is the little place where lived the original you, the newborn which was your start. Self-interested, self-absorbed, that first-of-all you existed within an abode which contained nothing but you and the things that served your needs and desires.
Born with an all-encompassing selfishness, this original You could have imagined nothing else but the importance of MY dry diaper, MY hunger, MY toys, MY party.
Call this origin-place the House of Self.
Some manage to get through life without growing very far beyond it. For most of us, though, the growing-beyond is one of our first major life steps. We come to see the totally self-absorbed people, the ones who don’t make it out, as tragically arrested, cut off from many of life’s joys.
For most of us, though, there comes a time when living entirely within the confines of that one house, however many rooms we have found in it, no longer fills our needs. The door we one day find opens not to a new room, but out of the house entirely. We step outside and discover that our former dwelling place is, rather than the center of everything, a mere dollhouse resting within a much bigger structure. In this bigger house are other people – our mother and father, brothers and sisters – and some of the stuff here is theirs.
We have to take notice of their rooms – THEIR possessions, THEIR needs, THEIR schedules – and it can be a costly and dismaying experience. In this new, bigger house we have to learn many new things – and unlearn many others. The payoff, though, is the gaining of mutual closeness and interconnected caring that greatly enlarges our lives. And a much more interesting world to live in.
Over time, we learn to live in this, the House of Family.
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