One of the favorite pastimes for American children during the Christmas holiday season is the re-televising of childhood stop-motion animation classics that are, inevitably, about Santa Claus. One of the more memorable is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. In a scene performed by Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn, Kris Kringle attempts to convert the evil Winter Warlock to good in a song, “You put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking cross the floor. Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door!” Simple enough concept, but what happens AFTER you go through the door? No one really sings about the consequences, for good or for bad. Not to state the obvious, an open door represents unexplored worlds, hoped-for dreams and unfulfilled expectations. Sometimes, though, an open door can bring just as much bad luck as good.
In literature, Harry Potter careens through platform 9 ¾ at London’s King’s Cross station to find himself in a world of magic and wonder, or is it a world of unparalleled danger? Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy Pevensie walk through a wardrobe to completely upend the established social system of a whole world, placing themselves on the throne. Dorothy misses going through a door of a storm cellar, and plunges instead through a tornado. Like the Pevensies, she helps rebels create an entire new political order in Oz, only to discover there’s no place like home, which remarkably, is Kansas. Kansas is a square state for a reason.
In history, Senegal’s Goree island and “the door of no return”shepherded 20,000,000 Africans into slavery. Now, though, on the other side of the door, there is a sign that reads, “the door of return” but nearly no Africans or their descendants have passed back. Nixon’s “open-door policy” in 1972 (remarkably, a term used in 1899-1900 when the US wanted to maintain access to Chinese ports, then under the growing sway of the French, British, Germans, Italians, Japanese and Russian) to legitimize communist China as the legal authority in China, heralded the end of isolation of China, but also ushered the arrival of China as a challenge to American hegemony.
In exploration, Thor Heyerdahl embarked on global expeditions, proving Egyptians could reach the Americas and Polynesians could sail to Hawaii. He also opened the door to a tourist invasion that has destroyed delicate ecosystems and native cultural traits of whole populations. Sir Edmund Hillary walked through his door from his home in New Zealand and reached Mt. Everest (or did get their Tenzing Norgay get their first?) in 1953, but so have at least 200 others since, who have died trying.
The last words of the song say, “You’ll never will get where you’re going, if you never get up on your feet.” Very true, but alas sometimes your feet get you somewhere you don’t really want to be.