But each year, there seemed to be another reason to leave the wall untouched. Other issues were more important. Siding for the house. New windows. Plumbing repairs. Now and then, especially in summertime, I would suggest to my husband that we let in the ocean air from the windows on the other side of the wall. But he would reply, "I'm afraid we might open up a bag of trouble with this old house if we begin to open up any of these old walls. The whole house will probably fall down." And I could not disagree with him. The house had its own history and one move in the wrong direction might create havoc. So I forgot about the wall. For a while.
Gradually, we accepted the narrow hallway as a constant in our lives. Whenever we used it to reach the spare room we'd complain, but the doorway was not mentioned again.
After my husband passed away, the house suddenly seemed too small, too full of memories, too crowded with grief. One year, I moved around the furniture. The next, I changed my way of life. I read all the books about closure and moving on and felt quite good about the progress I had made. And yet I yearned to do more, risk more, change more. As a widow, I had lost my old life and was searching for a new one. But after eight years of widowhood and a determination to be independent, I was beginning to lose faith in myself and in the world around me. Friends suggested a vacation, but I did not know where I wanted to go.
And then one day, I again noticed the wall. It seemed to stand there, taunting me. "You wouldn't dare," I heard it chuckle. "The whole house will fall down on your head. I'm an old house and I do not enjoy anyone tampering with my structure." Day after day, I felt it daring me, until I could not bear to look at it again.
Instead, I confided my frustration to Julie and Joseph, two young people who had recently moved in as neighbors. I shared my dream of a doorway into the spare room where everything good seemed to be trapped. I thought, to begin, I might call an engineer to study the structure of the house. But that would take time. And today, I felt time had run out.
Perhaps there was desperation in my voice. Perhaps they understood through the pain in my eyes that I needed to do something immediately. I wanted my old life back and I knew it would not return. Perhaps they felt me losing faith in my ability to live alone, to be a single woman, to make it all come together.
Two hours later, my new neighbors arrived on my porch with saws and hammers and equipment I had never seen before.
"We're here to make your doorway," they said.
I knew they had done much to upgrade their own property, but I did not know about their ability to deal with an old house. My husband's words echoed in the room. I hesitated. What if the house did fall down? I shared my fears and they just smiled and responded with their youthful enthusiasm, their confidence, and their caring. And so the work began. We laughed together when we found the original siding from the house on the other side where the porch had once been. We worried together when there were decisions to make about the beams and electrical wiring. But Julie and Joseph never gave up.
Often I would interrupt their work and say, "This is too much. I had no idea what it would take. What have I gotten you in to?"... "Don't get discouraged," one or the other would reply. "We'll do it. We're having a great time."
It took seven hours, but at the end of it, a large doorway faced the living room and through it swept the cool ocean air and the bright sunlight. And, as if by magic, the living room increased in size. Neighbors came to celebrate the doorway and to inspect it. Others helped rearrange the furniture in the living room now that there was more space. It was as if I had just moved into the house. Only this time I was alone, and I had shaped the room to fit my needs.
Somewhere, between staring at the doorway, the disbelief that it was done, and the wonder that the house truly did not fall down, I regained my belief that all things are possible. That human beings have a quality of goodness and beauty just waiting to be shared, and that it is never too late to take a chance.
I wanted to pay my neighbors for their work. Reimburse them in some way. But they refused. Someday I will find a way. It will be their turn to need help and I will be there. It is a special doorway I now have in my house. It has love and faith built into it. And it reminds me every day that my house and I are stronger than I thought. Neither of us falls apart easily.