The Open Door

It was when we were driving home on the M3 that we saw her.

A woman, pulled up on the hard shoulder. The motorway is a tarmac desert: somewhere one does not stop unless the car has given up the ghost. But far from having broken down, she had pulled up for a purpose.

I have never seen anything like it before, and I’ve seen a lot of motorways. A flight of stairs ascended from the hard shoulder into the dense woodland, where a door awaited. It was a wooden door in a brick wall, and who knew what lay beyond it?

She brandished a pair of keys, in obvious readiness. In the minutes after our car had passed on its way, she would walk up the steps, unlock the door and step into another world.

The sound of the traffic would recede, and instead of the sight of steel self-propelled carriages hurtling brashly by, the greenery of English woodland would emerge, and the heathy smell of sun-dried straw.

A door: a portal: a before-and-after.

My favourite door lies at the end of the garden in the holiday home we use on the Kent coast.

So in love am I with this door that I can almost feel the black bolt slip beneath my fingers and the door swing towards me, buffeted by a sea breeze. And I can almost see the shimmering expanse of sea before me, bordered by comfortable English seaside furniture: the green cliffside walk, the 20 pence telescope, the dogs lumbering along on a lead, the people sitting basking on the seaview bench.

An unassuming door, which holds a world of experience on the other side.

Phil stepped over a threshold  today: a metaphysical one. He made a choice to do something so unfamiliar it must have felt like opening a door and walking through.

He ran 13 miles to raise money for a charity.

Phil runs in the forest with the dog: but he has never run in an organised event over this distance in his life. This morning as we prepared to go, he looked longingly at his small four-legged running partner. “I wish I could take you,” he told him.

The dog wagged his tail and emanated clueless affability. He got very excited indeed when Phil put on his running shoes, but all to no avail. Instead he sat, disgruntled, at the top of the stairs while we piled into the car and packed in the picnic.

I was not of settled mind.Phil’s knee had twisted on Friday in football: we had no idea whether it would stand up to 13 miles. And then there was the unseasonable heat.

We drove the half hour journey and trailed across the fields to the festive starting line. And he disappeared into a seething throng, making a brief cameo appearance on the other side of the road before vanishing on his odyssey.

Two hours later, the drama of the finishing line had us in its sway. Felix was impressed by the clapping and cheering, and offered words of comfort to passing runners on their last legs. “Nearly there!” he chirruped delightedly.

And then the paramedic punctured the jubilance by getting grimly into his car and driving off down the course. Ask not for whom the paramedic’s siren tolls…each of us in a crowd of hundreds prayed with selfish single-mindedness that his wheels were not pointed in the direction of our loved one.

It added a heightened tension to the next 40 minutes as we waited and cheered those who ran by, each one with a story of determination and perseverance.

I moved into the sun and used my camera to frame a special shot: the victorious runner. Evader of the paramedic. Conqueror of the knee. Vanquisher of the heat.

He appeared. I didn’t know whether to cheer wildly or take a picture. I settled unsteadily for both, and then turned and ran like the clappers along the course to catch him further on.

I became aware that Maddie was sprinting alongside, and that someone was shouting to me that I had dropped most of my worldly belongings behind me in my eagerness to see him running just one more time before he faltered finally, and allowed heat, knee and exhaustion to overcome him.

Having retrieved them, we sat in the sun as Phil drank water and ate a tuna fish sandwich and we all stood round, saying: Well done, Phil. Jolly well done.

Before he stepped through his door he had no idea what awaited him: success or failure, health or injury, defeat or jubilation.

He has a talent for stepping through metaphorical doors boldly.

Now all that remains is for me to find the keys to mine.


39 thoughts on “The Open Door

  1. Very well done Phil – I found it difficult just taking a walk yesterday in the heat. As with everyone else, wherever does that door on the M3 lead to?

  2. Loved reading every word, Kate, I was behind you watching the woman readying the key to open that door on the hard shoulder, for I too love doors, portals to other Worlds, dimensions. somewhere far, far beyond… (I swear if I don’t find my personal key soon, I shall take a run at said door …and probably end up with a bruised shoulder).. ..My Bess used to wait at the top of the stairs, showing she was a tad unhappy at being left, then later in life when she couldn’t climb the stairs unaided, she’d place herself, lying by the kitchen step leading into the dining room, with her sorrowful head placed just so, for fantastic effect, eyes wide and mouth drooping… pulling on the heart strings…
    Congratulations to Phil, can’t have been easy in the heat we’ve had lately..but he did it… Now where’s my coffee? ahhh lovely!! bye for now.. xPenx

  3. Your description of the woman at the door reminded me of the Secret Garden film, Kate.
    Well done indeed to Phil from all at the johnell74 residence (ie both of us!!)
    A feat in the heat indeed
    Love as always,

  4. It reminded me of the Secret Garden as well.
    We are having our drive paved today and just spent an hour trying to figure out which key fit into the ONLY door we will be able to get into for the next 24 hours. We never use a key in that door as it is to the deck and we just walk out from the kitchen. Sigh. We must still have keys to our childhood homes in the key piles. By the time we were through, I was wishing I’d find a key to a secret door.
    Three cheers for Phil. A mighty accomplishment, indeed.

    1. Ah, keys, now, that’s a whole nother post, Penny! Their mystery is endless, as is their capacity to disappear without trace when they become essential. Such adventures I have had with keys, over the years.

      Hope you found your keys 🙂

  5. So well done that I’m tired and feel like I’ve run 13 miles. 🙂 (In reality, I just walked 5.2.)

    I love the description of the door by the roadway. I react just the same to random trails that I can see from the window of the car. They snake off into the woods and disappear, and I always wonder where they could take me if I only had the time to stop and explore.

    1. I think that possibility adds piquance to every lifetime, a bit like salt to a meal. Those winding paths just keep us guessing and wondering and we will never explore them all.

  6. What a wonderful glimpse into the Secret Garden of your life, Kate!

    Loved the portals through which you passed in this post . . . those of imagination . . . and those revealing seaside breezes and vistas . . . and those portals which are more rigorous tests of stamina and endurance.

    Well done to Phil! I’m glad he did not pass through the portal of the ambulance.

    1. So am I , Nancy! And I was fairly convinced he had! So good to see him heading for the finishing line.

      Must re-read the Secret Garden. I have always had a soft spot for Ben Weatherstaff and that robin.

  7. Now he’s had success at a a half marathon, watch out- he’ll get addicted! Next up it’ll be the full marathon, or maybe a triathlon?

  8. Good for Phil – I’m cheering here too. I do so love when people surprise themselves and others with what they can do, once they open that door. Now what did I do with my keys? Metaphorical keys… gosh, isn’t it hard enough to find or remember where one placed the physical ones? 😉

  9. Phil sounds like a wonderful adventurer. I love the image of stepping through the portals…bravely, no less. Congratulations to him putting out focused effort in support of others. Forgive my smile at the picture of you dropping all your goods behind you in enthusiasm…I just relate! I absolutely needed this smile today. Thank you, Kate! Debra

    1. I never mind supplying a smile, Debra. I am known amongst my friends for being comically clumsy: falling up steps and so on. But I find it just as funny as everyone else…

  10. I love those doors to anywhere, Kate… I have one to my place of peace and tranquility – in my mind, of course! I’m intrigued by that door on the motorway though… how random…
    And well done to Phil – the feeling of accomplishment after the event is well worth going through the event for – although I have never run 13 miles before, and would probably forget how to breathe if I even tried!

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