Portals & Thresholds
from personal resolutions to societal regeneration
Rebecca Taylor looking at James Turrell’s ‘Wedgework’ in Unlimited at Art Basel 2016.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” - Arundhati Roy (The Pandemic is a Portal, Financial Times)
We’re societally conditioned to think of the new calendar year as an opportunity for a reset or a clean slate. A time when we resolve to give up our ‘bad’ habits and/or develop a practice of new ‘good’ habits in the quest of becoming [insert your name here] 2.0 in the new year. But, as we enter 2022, still very much in the throes of this global pandemic that has unequivocally and irrevocably upended the world as we knew it, it seems like the perfect time to shift our perspective. Imagine what might happen, if we thought of this new year not just as a chance to improve our habits, but as a portal to an entirely new world, as Roy suggested in her poignant article “The Pandemic is a Portal” in the Financial Times.
While a portal is quite simply a doorway or gateway, in literature and cinema, portals often involve a commonplace item infused with magic – a wardrobe door to Narnia, a rabbit hole vortex to Wonderland, a British police box defying both time and geography, and so on – and are typically gateways to an exciting and unimaginable adventure. Since I have (regrettably) never encountered a secret bookcase that led to Fillory or another magical place, I have leaned into metaphorical portals – transporting and (hopefully) transforming my understanding of the world, not by shifting my physical vantage point necessarily, but by changing the lens or filter tinting my perspective. While we may be naturally inclined or predisposed to ‘see’ and experience the world (and the people in it) a certain way, we also have the ability to recognize these cognitive biases and learn to see the world differently. It requires adopting a growth mindset, of sorts, but one that’s focused less on acquiring new skills and more on gaining perspective, experience and ultimately, empathy.
What if we looked at 2022 with this type of growth mindset, and set out to gain perspective and empathy rather than habits and skills? What if we imagined the type of world we would like to find on the other side of a magic portal, and then, worked backward to design how we might contribute to creating that world? We could throw all our energy into solving a single problem that plagues the world, or perhaps more realistically, dedicate ourselves to tackling many problems in our small corner of it. Either way, imagine the impact if this new attitude became pervasive and we all sought to better the world, rather than simply ourselves, in 2022.
Another part of Roy’s quote that strikes me is the idea of “walking lightly”. In the late fall when I was preparing to make an international move, my flat in London leaked during a heavy rainstorm. As I finished mopping up the water and surveyed the damage done, I knew the normal response would be anger, frustration and perhaps even mourning for the items (photos, books, invitations, papers and more) that had been irreparably destroyed in the flood. And yet, I felt an overwhelming peace that passes understanding and thought about a quote by St. Francis that a dear friend had recently shared with me, “Wear the world as a loose garment.” As I considered this quote and the symbolism of my ruined belongings in my soon-to-be former home, I resolved to donate liberally and pack sparingly, so that I wouldn’t be burdened by the past in this next chapter. A few weeks after the flood, I left London and my flat with nearly 1/3 less than I had arrived with five years before — literally and metaphorically traveling light and wearing life ‘loosely’ so that I could dare to reimagine it completely.
With my load lightened, I am ready to reimagine not only my own life and the ways I’ve defined myself personally and professionally to date, but also the world around me and my impact upon it. I’m ready to imagine a more equitable, sustainable world replacing the toxically polarized & inequitable one we currently inhabit. And perhaps most importantly, as the end of Roy’s quote suggests, I’m ready to fight for it.