The Joy Behind Closed Doors

In the anime smash hit Suzume, a high school girl of the same name follows a stranger into an abandoned water park. She loses the stranger but finds a mysterious door. Suzume is unable to pass into the other world that seems to lie behind the door and gets scared. She runs away but leaves the door open on her way out — and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

My girlfriend’s dad has Parkinson’s, and so for his family, the movie trope is reversed: The door to his room must stay open so that help can remain only a whisper away. Barring special situations like these, however, as Suzume would with hindsight know, a closed door can be a beautiful thing.

Humans aren’t spiders. We don’t need to keep one foot on our web at all times, feeling for vibrations. Yet it is on that very web that we often open far too many doors, too many tabs anyone can keep track of, let alone enjoy.

In that sense, leaving the doors in your house open to stay on track of what everyone is doing is a bit like leaving Twitter open “just in case” of breaking news. Breaking news are called “breaking” for a reason: They don’t need your permission to reach you. If it’s urgent, important, or both, you’ll find out soon enough.

Similarly, people sometimes need to occupy their own worlds in order to find new and interesting things worth carrying into yours. It could be your son assembling a Lego set on his own for the first time, your partner solving a tricky challenge at work, or a friend having a breakthrough moment while staring out your kitchen window. Can you imagine their excitement when they emerge, ready to share the news?

If we insist on keeping all lines of communication open at all times, however, we consume the space it takes for the magic of individuality to happen. Teenagers tend to need that space the most, but we all require it from time to time, whether we believe it or not.

Don’t be afraid to ask for that space — to ask others to close the door behind them — and to generously offer it in return. Whenever I’m home, my mom still asks me if she should shut the door on her way out. It’s rarely required — I could always close it myself, of course — but always appreciated.

In The Shawshank Redemption, the falsely convicted Andy Dufresne at one point decides to give himself a moment of peace. He sneaks into the warden’s office, locks the door behind him, and puts on a piece of Italian music — on speaker, of course, for the whole prison to hear. For a few minutes before the guards break in, he sits there, smiling from ear to ear. Meanwhile, in the prison yard, time also stands still as everyone gazes at the speaker, mesmerized by the sound.

Andy’s friend Red concludes that, sometimes, leaving a door closed is the right thing to do: “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like a beautiful bird flapped into our drab cage and made those walls dissolve away. And for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.”

Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. And just like Red had to not overthink the music to enjoy it, Andy needed a moment to himself in a closed room to emerge with a gift not just for himself but also his fellow prisoners. Closed doors all around, yet everyone felt liberated.

Being 17 years old, Suzume also requires lots of privacy. She tries to convince her aunt everything is okay, that she just needs “a little vacation,” but as the orphan’s elected guardian, her aunt is too protective, too worried to let her do her own thing. Perhaps that’s why she runs away in the first place, chasing after a stranger, and then ironically leaves a door open that can no longer easily be closed.

As her aunt will eventually, learn, however, so will Suzume: Doors are usually closed for a reason, and often enough, the best way to support the joy that grows behind them is to show them our respect.