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  • Writer's pictureAaron Torop

It's Only a Door

Adrienne Rich's powerful poem offers us an invitation to embark on an unknown journey. The path makes no promises, it's only a door.

The poet Adrienne Rich wrote the following lines about her experience as an immigrant:

Prospective Immigrants Please Note, by Adrienne Rich

Either you will

go through this door

or you will not go through.

If you go through

there is always the risk

of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly

and you must look back

and let them happen.

If you do not go through

it is possible

to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes

to hold your position

to die bravely

but much will blind you,

much will evade you,

at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.

It is only a door.

Her poem reflects on the possibility and uncertainty that accompanies beginning a new journey. She opens with the choice that any individual has: to act to start something new or to remain where they are. As she considers what happens when you go through the door, she focuses first on the stark difference between you and what is around you. You remember your name, how distinct it is from others, you are watched and othered by looks that you are forced to accept. Then, after considering the possible benefits of not going through, Rich poses a question about the cost of not taking this journey: the ignorance that blinds us, the lack of opportunity, the unknown potential lost.

Rich concludes with a powerful couplet, bringing the reader back to the physical after dealing in largely abstract concepts. It is only a door. The door is neutral, the journey is only a journey – what changes us is far beyond the door itself.

I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately, especially recognizing the times and moments where we are asked to make a choice to being a journey, to step through a door. I find myself weighing her words, considering the opportunities gained and lost by crossing a threshold, what will look at me doubly if I do, or what might evade me if I don’t.

Over the next weeks, we read in the Torah the story of Abraham and Sarah on their journey. When God called to Abraham lech l’cha, go forth, Abraham stepped bravely through the door. Abraham and Sarah change their position and attitudes, opening their eyes to the wonders of God and the hardships and joys of founding a new community, the Jewish people. Their names are changed from Avram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. I’m not sure what to make of this detail in light of Rich’s poem, where she writes, “If you go through / there is always the risk / of remembering your name.” Did Abraham and Sarah think about their prior names and what they meant? When they became Abraham and Sarah, did they remember their names? How did it feel for them?

Ultimately, I think Rich’s line about remembering your name touches on a sense of individualization and identity. Our name symbolizes all that we are, our uniqueness and distinctiveness in the world. When we embark on a new journey, like Abraham and Sarah did, we see ourselves in stark contrast to the world around us. We risk remembering the totality of who we are, asserting our individuality to take the journey. We consider how our identity has been shaped by our journey until this point, and who we might become, or not, if we go through the door. Starting a journey causes us to reflect on who we are and who we want to be, with the added challenge of the possibility that who we are will not be accepted where we are going. And yet, much is lost by not taking that first step.

As we read the story of Abraham and Sarah and reflect on the words of Adrienne Rich, may we be inspired to take a journey and cross the threshold. Or not. Who knows what will happen, it is only a door.

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