Sunday, January 25, 2015

keys to the kingdom

In the process of gathering information for a puff piece on home break-ins, I once asked a police captain how he personally protected his house when he wasn't around in the evening. 

He thought a moment and then said approximately, "Well, I put a couple of lights on, turn on the radio and leave the front door unlocked." Why would he leave the front door unlocked? "If someone is going to break into your house, they're going to break in. Look at all the windows. Why pay to have the door fixed into the bargain?"

Strange to think how anyone might assume that locking a door would protect and preserve when the fragility of windows is as plain as the nose on your face. True, it might slow things down, but not by much.

How reassuring the keys to life can seem. A religion, a philosophy, a belief -- they all have a reassuring and tentative protection and nourishment. The good stuff is defended and fertilized. The bad stuff is kept knowingly at bay, if not exactly vanquished.

The problem is, of course, that keys that provide a keep-out protection also imply an opening and ingress. The doors may be well and truly locked, but the windows remain. The keys to heaven are invariably the keys to hell as well.

I do not think anyone should go into a depressing funk about any of this, sit stock still as a means of falling into neither the trap of heaven nor the trap of hell. I just think it is worth noticing as a means of assessing the usefulness and perhaps truth of the keys anyone might choose.

How many literal keys does anyone own? Lots, I imagine. Something for the car, something for the house, something for the desk drawer, etc. The key ring jingles reassuringly in the pocket or pocketbook. And likewise how many mental keys are stored and jingle ... and wear holes in the pocket of the mind and heart?

Keep it locked up safe.

Unlock it when the coast is clear and the need arises.

No one's getting my flat-screen TV! No one's gonna disturb my equanimity!

But the walls that keep out likewise hem in. Wasn't it outside the protective wall of his well-appointed palace that the Buddha encountered what was fruitful in his life? I don't know, but I choose to see it that way.

But nor yet was unlocking the palace gate exactly complete, whether literally or metaphorically. The man or woman who unlocks is the same man or woman who locks. Safety and protection, danger and vulnerability are a package deal.

So where is the key to this conundrum ... the perfect safety and bliss? When all the perfect keys work imperfectly, is there a perfection of some sort, some "enlightenment" or "Nirvana" or "heaven" in which life is nothing but a bowl of Twinkies? Where's the key?

As I get older, the literal keys that I have become fewer and fewer. My control and assurance wanes with them. My ideas about safety and protection lose their savor. It's spooky and lonely on occasion, but it also has a strange correctness to it.

Turn on a couple of lights, leave your radio on and the front door unlocked ... and enjoy your night on the town.

1 comment:

  1. Seeing and knowing that there's a door is not walking through it. And once the fear of doing so is addressed and one finds themselves outside, there's the further effort of seeking peace amid the existence outside of belief.

    In discussing Jan Swammerdam's return to religion (1680) after a life that advanced the science of biology significantly, Will Durant observes, "His return from science to religion personified the hesitation of modern man between a search for truth that smiles at hope and a retreat to hopes that shy from truth."

    Doors do swing inward as well as outward, and things do run to the capacity of the individual.