I love to open the door for people in general, not just women. But I do admit there is a certain satisfaction when the “thank you” of an elderly woman or the smile of an unexpecting, working woman shoots back across that threshold. I used to think opening doors was a gentleman’s way of flirting harmlessly with those who might not have received it otherwise. I used to believe I held doors for women because that is what would make my grandfather proud. I thought it was because of chivalry. It was not until I was confronted by a particular woman that I found out the reason I believe in opening doors. I opened the door for a woman who was hurrying in to some important building, glasses on, hair pulled back tight. She was obviously in a bigger hurry than I was (most people are). The gentleman I fancied myself to be, I reached just in front of her to allow her to enter the building without a hitch in her step. It was as if she were going to enter without hesitation until a thought seemingly hit her like she ran into a brick wall. “I can do it myself,” she said most contemptuously.
The stained glass portrait that was my idea of what it meant to be a southern gentleman shattered in that instance. Why did I care to open the door for women like her? Why did I preach to my friends that you should always carry the heavy bags, hold their hands down the stairs? Why did I say the best way to start a date is with an open door? Had I seen too many clips from Bogart’s and Sinatra’s era that taught me that a man should just do those things out of courtesy? What was it?!? Then an idea knocked me to the ground as if I were the one trying to run through a brick wall; I had been doing all these things for the wrong reasons. I opened doors to get “thank yous” and glances from pretty girls, or just to feel good about myself. It was all wrong, everything!
The wall that hit me was comprised of pictures of my mother when I was young. She was as thin as she was beautiful with short auburn hair, piercing jade eyes; standing 5’8” she had a deceiving hour glass figure. No one could have seen those pictures and discerned the true desperation that hid behind those gilded, green eyes. She was always smiling, as if every photo would be sent to the magazines. She stood as if she were still coaching models on what it meant to strike a perfect pose. However, those smiles and poses of elegance concealed a woman who was clawing and scratching and fighting for every step she took forward. That brick wall that hit me, it reminded me that she had spent so many years starving herself for her family. She honestly had an eating disorder. But her anorexia was not induced by self-loathing, or fear, or obsessive compulsion; she was starving herself because she knew that every meal she ate would be like taking food off the plates of my brother and I. She starved herself for love.
Someone could impose that she should have just taken government assistance or that she could have used our child support better to relieve herself of such strain. The same people ignorantly assume there was a consistent child support check and, without doubt, they did not know my mother. She told me stories of walking up two flights of stairs with her firstborn on one hip, my baby brother on the second, and seven or eight grocery bags in her hands. She was strong. She was strong for her children. You could possibly say that it was a weakness for her to bring herself so close to fatal harm, but she would prove to her critics, God, and herself that she would survive.
Two children, a car payment, sports, food, insurance, a mortgage, and a job that only paid eight dollars an hour consumed her expenses throughout most of my childhood. She did not eat so that we could. Years later she accidentally let it slip that she had once had an eating disorder. A little investigation finally taught me her reasons. What could have made her do all this? It was sacrifice. It was a love for her children that God instilled in her from the moment she laid her eyes on them. She knew the moment we were put in her arms that she would bleed herself dry to give us life. She nearly did.
We actually called her supermom because she taught herself how to fix video game consoles, repair sinks, paint and take care of a wood deck, build just about anything, even kill spiders. Once, as a child I told her that men were better than children. Instantly in angered tears, she quickly pulled me aside and gave me a degree of tongue lashing that I hope no one else ever undergoes. I couldn’t understand why she cried in moments like those. I had no way of knowing how much she invested, how hard every dinner had become.
As I became a man my role was to take care of her the only ways I knew how. When she cried, I would hug her and reassure her everything would be okay. I was her son, but sometimes she just needed a shoulder to cry on. To my last breath, that will be a responsibility I will always have been proud to bare. She did so much for my brother and I. She gave so much of herself without complaint of how the world had turned its back on and abandoned her.
My mother was not weak even though she cried, she was not poor though she had no money, she did not give in when the entire world collapsed on her, she was taught no skill, yet proved herself capable, she gave us her life when she had none of her own; her children needed her and she was strong. I look back to the times when she was alone. I think about all that she had to do for herself. Capable: that has defined her. She was beautiful, but did not walk in beauty like the night. She was the brace that supported her family’s future. Anything she set her mind to was a task that would soon be achieved. She was supermom, and we were simply the test to bring her powers to the surface. She may not know that she has them to this day, but they are there, beneath her ever graceful smile. Power, intelligence, stubbornness, humility, and her strongest superpower of sacrificial love still govern all she does. Like the giving tree, she would give herself to our rest even after she had sacrificed all she had left.
Now, I open doors now with her in mind. Not only was she not the weaker sex, she was the strongest of all who have entered my life. If she wanted to, she could patch a roof, repair a deck and paint a house, fix electronic games that she knew nothing about; she could forget that she was raised in the country club with silk socks from France and scarves from Milan, she could play in the mud with her sons. She has always been able to do anything she set her incredible mind to. That is not the question at hand. The question is: Do I believe she should have to? The answer is obvious. She should not have had to live alone, her only protection a five-year-old boy. She should not have had to carry groceries upstairs by herself; she should not have had to repair electronics and drive two boys to two separate soccer practices, or kill spiders. She should not have had to starve herself so that we could eat. So can she open a door? Yes. But she sure as hell should not have to!
So there I was, standing in front of some building, my heart racing because of the challenge before me. I knew where the lady was coming from, that she felt demeaned or insulted, but I did not care, this was not about her. I did not open that door to make her smile, I did not do it to flirt or think better of myself. I had found the reason why I believed in opening doors for women. I opened that door because every time I open a door I watch a healthy version of my mother pass through. This particular lady yelled at me, “I can do it myself!” I simply replied, “Ma’am I believe you, I just don’t believe you should have to.”