Portal (1): Door, entrance; especially, a grand or imposing one. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Recently I’ve found myself thinking about portals.
Our youngest daughter was married this past March. At the beginning of the ceremony, we walked her down the aisle to the altar. We hugged her, greeted the groom, and went to our seats, illustrating the social reality that we had released her into her new life. The two of them stepped into the sacred space together and exchanged the vows that made them “husband and wife.”
The wedding ritual is a kind of “portal” – a passageway — in which you go in with one identity and come out with another. There was no visible arch in that sanctuary — the ceremony itself was the portal.
Portals have been a favorite device in science fiction. I remember Star Trek episodes where the crew would encounter a time portal — they’d leap into a vortex and disappear, then find themselves in a different place and era.
Spock and Kirk were the same people after passing through the portal, but they had experienced a different world.
The same idea was used for the Outlander series, where people could go from 1945 Britain to 1743 Scotland by placing themselves amid the “standing stones” of Callanish.
In both shows, the main characters always had a choice — if they wanted, they could always go back through the portal to return to the life they had come from.
In January 2020, I went to Europe by myself for a two-week personal pilgrimage. Before booking the trip, I had many sleepless nights wondering if it was wise to travel by myself at my age. But eventually, I decided to do it. I remember waiting at the terminal in San Francisco and hearing the announcement that it was time to board. I went through the check-in gate and walked down the covered passageway to the plane thinking, “Well, here I go.” It was a portal. 20 hours later, I would be stepping out the door in Vienna. I would be the same person I was in California, but I’d be a long way from home — and I did not know what might happen to me before I returned.
I think of people who have major surgeries. They arrive at the hospital and are prepped. Then they’re on a gurney being wheeled down a hospital hallway wondering what their life will be like after the procedure. They’re passing through a portal.
Many cultures and spiritual traditions have rituals to perform as people approach the end of their life. I often recite the 23rd Psalm in those situations, anointing the person with oil and laying my hand gently on their forehead, pausing, and praying they will have a sense of peace. They are approaching the great portal we all will face someday.
I’ve been speculating recently on when I will arrive at that portal. It’s not out of fear but curiosity. Will it come after a long illness when I’ve had time to prepare myself for the transition? Or will it come suddenly and take me by surprise? Every day I go out the same front door I’ve passed through for 30 years. But I won’t be stepping over that threshold forever; there will be a time when someone else lives in this house and I will not be here.
So lately I’ve been trying to pay a little extra attention to the details of my life as I experience them. I leave my iPhone at home and just walk. I try to notice and be grateful for what I observe and the ability I still have to be aware of it all. It’s strange to know that many things we can see and take for granted today will be here long after we are gone, and our passing will not matter.
We choose to pass through some portals in life, like getting married and boarding a long-distance flight. But others will come upon us — we know not when.
It will not be long before Joe passes through that portal. I certainly have a mixture of feelings and so does he. The hardest part for him is to have lost so much strength. The hardest part for me is to see his life force ebb away by little increments each day. Prayers that I have the strength to keep him at home through to the end.
I was thinking of you and Joe, Elsa. Blessings in this time. Steve
A thoughtful post…especially for us in our later years. Thank you, Steve.
Thank you, Marilyn. When I was at Hospice, I often assumed I would die with enough advanced knowledge to be aware of what’s happening. But I found that only 42% of people die in hospice care, and many die more quickly. I think about that now a lot. We never know.
Blessings on you and Bill.
another winner Steve. Also: the title page on almost every classic Jewish text features an image of a gateway framing the entire page, signaling that by beginning to read, we are walking through a gateway/portal. Also, the liturgy of Yom Kippur speaks of us standing on that day before “the open gate”…which closes at the end of the day. We could play with this one for a long time.