Throughout the last week, I watched the progress on my neighbor’s new window installation from my subterranean storage space-turned home office, which has a conveniently inconspicuous view up into my townhouse community’s shared courtyard. Not only was the process a loud one, but it was surprisingly involved: from sawing out the original windows and sealing the open spaces with plastic, to the meticulous measurement and placement of each customized, double-paned Ferrari of home finishings. And I only saw the outside activity. Suddenly, I felt an urgency to install these high-impact windows of my own. How could I be so exposed – a first-time homeowner living alone in a hurricane hub just blocks from the open ocean? In conversation with that same neighbor just a few days later, I was struck by the subtle irony of it all: the protection we feel by reinforcing the very outlet that is meant to connect us to the outside world is curious indeed.
While I am not diminishing the practical utility of storm-resistant windows in South Florida, I am nonetheless compelled to follow this allegorical train of thought. Without researching their architectural evolution, it doesn’t take a genius to intuit that our homes have windows because fundamentally, we are animals that desire to co-exist with nature. Or more essentially, we’ve figured out that our basic chemistry depends on a minimum daily exposure to vitamin D, and frankly, seeing outdoors just makes us happier. Yet in the course of our own species’ technological and social progression, we logically became more capable and comfortable creating spaces protected from harsh elements, predators, and pests (unless of course you live in the tropics, and personal experience tells me that cockroaches and carpenter ants are still remarkably adept at finding their way inside!). By design, windows connect us to the wild, external environment that we appreciate even more from the security of our controlled backdrops; however, they also serve as a barrier or a type of armor that defend us from the uncomfortable conditions of the outside world.
Returning to that reflexive moment when I compared my neighbor’s chance of survival in a category 5 hurricane versus my own, it inspired me to consider that maybe our homes are just an extension of our egos. Isn’t part of the human experience to traverse through life in these bodies on an arduous quest to control our inner state, only to realize that is the actual source of all our suffering? We do this by some combination of guarding ourselves from perceived threats beyond the scope of our relatively small personal domains, and actively trying to change everyone and everything else to meet our personal standards of existence. We shield ourselves in a proverbial home and how often do we—do I—really let anyone inside the walls? Our eyes and ears serve as our sensorial windows, yet our default is one of triple-paned resistance to filter out the noise and the unbridled chaos that is our world. While I have not yet installed any elaborate hurricane-proof windows, part of me wonders if all this glass armor is really serving to protect me. As I’ve learned through the most difficult of recent personal circumstances, when the storm comes, it comes with a vengeance. No amount of superficial protection will allow me to escape the inherent and inexorable challenges of being human. While I am enjoying the process of creating a new home that is my sanctuary and brings me a sense of peace, I am keenly aware that I must not believe any false pretenses that I am truly safe.
In writing this, I recalled a short story by Robert Fisher that I read years ago entitled The Knight In Rusty Armor. The protagonist is a noble gentleman who dedicates his life to helping others and performing good deeds. The knight is also famous for his shining armor, which he loves so much that he never takes it off, even while sleeping. His astute wife is tired of never really “seeing” her husband, so she gives him an ultimatum: either he removes the armor or she leaves with their child. The knight tries to remove the metal suit in order to save his family and much to his dismay, he cannot. The story that ensues is the tale of the knight’s “Path of Truth”, reminding him that his real purpose is to shed the armor. After braving harrowing challenges in three different castles, he stumbles upon a boulder with a powerful inscription: “Though this universe I own, I possess not a thing, for I cannot know the unknown if to the known I cling.” The story concludes with the message that, because the knight had been able to release everything that he thought he knew and to trust the unknown, it set him free. Ultimately, he is able to completely shed his physical and emotional armor.
It seems like we are all walking around with an invisible wall (or triple-paned windows – real and figurative) to defend ourselves from vulnerability, particularly in the aftermath of a global health crisis that rocked our very foundation of safety and trust in our neighbors. But I’d also assert that there is a slight opening in everyone, a crack in the window to our homes, that we are all secretly yearning to be permeated by friends and strangers alike. And on the other side of the coin, like the knight, we must also forge our own paths to truth, which entails a shedding of the armor we’ve donned over a lifetime of wounds. Personally, my aspiration is that someday I will move beyond the intellectual awareness to the real experience of knowing that there is actually no distinction between the outside and in. It is one fluid space wherein I own no land, no walls, and no windows, but rather I am the guest. Storms will continue to tear down the house, but with a solid foundation, I will rebuild stronger than ever…if only I could eliminate those darn ants.