I believe in opening doors. A door is a barrier between one realm and the next. There are racial barriers, class barriers, gender barriers and barriers between Pepsi-people and Coke-people. Some barriers are flimsy, like screen doors that flap open at the slightest nudge. Others resist opening, like aged oak doors with rusty hinges. But regardless of the amount of effort required to open a door, when that door is opened, understanding and good-will flood through the empty frame.
It was the summer after my junior year of high school and I worked at a hotel as a lifeguard. I often noticed the Jamaican women, who came to work during the peak summer season, pushing carts of dirty towels down the pool deck. When they passed my chair, we never spoke a word, exchanged a nod, or even made eye contact; it was as if we did not exist to each other. After my shift one afternoon, I was walking toward my car when I heard a woman with a thick accent call out to me. She asked if I could drive her down the road so she wouldn’t have to walk as far to her apartment. At first I hesitated, but realizing that there was no logical reason to turn her down, I agreed. As we walked, I discovered that Paula had come to work at this particular hotel ever since Hurricane Ivan destroyed her house in Jamaica, and as we sat in my car she discovered that I kept a box of Cheerios in my passenger seat in case I needed a snack. As I drove, I turned on the radio and, very appropriately, the song “Lean on Me” was playing. Paula knew the words, was thrilled, and before I knew it, we were both singing along.
That afternoon, a barrier was broken and a door was opened. Paula made the initial approach, turning the knob, and I gave a push, by saying yes. Even though we were separated by race and culture, that superficial difference gave way to friendliness. Clearly, a door doesn’t have to be opened with a hand. It can be opened with a warm smile, an open invitation, a friendly phone call or a kindly look.
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