Chapter 2: The Red Door
Tom wipes the snow off his lantern and walks deeper into the woods. The baritone hoot of an owl resounds above his head, so he stops and scans the trees for the mysterious night bird. High above him, a shadow is perched on a snowy limp. Its eyes glow yellow, reflecting the lantern. It seems to be staring right at Tom. He calls to it, but instead of this shadow answering him, a different one somewhere off the trail, deeper in the woods, trills back; the noise is potent. The owl above him leaps off the branch, stretches out its wings and dives towards him. Its massive, heavy body swoops up before it reaches Tom’s head and flies off towards the other voice. Tom turns to pursue.
Tom runs as fast as his old legs will carry him over the bumpy ground and through the deep snow. But the night bird is too fast and after a few minutes, its voice is lost in the distance. Tom keeps walking in the direction it flew, careful not to roll an ankle on the rugged terrain. The snow is deeper here, the tree trunks are thicker and older, and a patch of fog makes the forward journey treacherous. Tom doesn’t recognize this part of the forest, but he is determined to find the two rare owls, so he trudges on.
Something is up ahead. It’s dark, and his lantern doesn’t provide enough light to see, but Tom hears the sharp trill again. The noise is closer than ever. He walks forward into a large clearing. Right in the middle are two owls. One is two feet tall, with horns. The other is tiny and round. Their yellow eyes stare unblinking. They are perched on something manmade: an old red oak door. It has a large iron knocker at eye level. The door is held up by a stone doorframe, but nothing else.
The owls stare at Tom, as if to tell him something. They hoot with excitement as he walks closer. He reaches the door and they don’t fly away; instead they seem to want him closer. The giant owl points his horns toward the other side of the door, as if to invite him to come inside. But there’s nothing on the other side, Tom says aloud to the owls. He walks around to the other side. See, nothing here, he says, as if the owls can communicate with him. The bigger owl looks at Tom like a teacher disappointed that a student has given the wrong answer in class.
The smaller owl trills at him. The noise is piercing. It flies in the air, making a big loop in the sky, and heads directly at the door. The little owl slams into the door full speed. Tom gasps. The owl is stunned on the ground, wings out like a snow angel. A few seconds later it lets out a trill, shakes itself off, then flutters back up to its perch on the stone doorframe next to the other owl and trills almost loudly enough to burst Tom’s eardrum. Tom takes a step back and looks around, wondering why these owls are acting so odd.
The door appears to be frozen shut. He pushes on it but it doesn’t give. He walks around to the other side, the side the little bird just crashed into. Nothing. Then he looks down in the snow and notices that the door has clearly been opened. Probably in the last few minutes. The snow at the bottom has been pushed away in the exact arc that the door would make. Tom’s eyes fall on the large iron knocker.
He knocks twice. Nothing happens. He knocks a third time and the door creaks open just a crack. A sudden bright light radiates from the opening. Tom shields his eyes. The door is alive. He grabs the handle and pulls it open the rest of the way. A flood of light and warm air burst through the doorway. Both owls dance, chirp, hoot and fly off, loop around in the air and fly inside at full speed. Tom follows them into the light.
\ Author’s Commentary
Advent is a season about beginning in the midst of obstacle and conflict. The setting is “darkness”—insert “light—the brink or inauguration of something good. Thousands of years ago, the birth of a Jewish Messiah named Jesus of Nazareth was literally the in-breaking or the verge of salvation from broken systems and oppression. God entering society in the midst of the conflict, the greed, the unfair empire that oppressed the common good.
At the red door, the old man Tom, is on the verge of walking into something very new and very uncertain. Similar to the Christmas story of a baby in a manger, who has a very uncertain future, this story is one of infantile love. The tiny baby Jesus (tip of the hat, Mr. Ferrell) has not yet become the Messiah.
The red door is a metaphor for something misplaced and magical; something illogical and hopeful; something impossible and miraculous. Tom is on the verge of experiencing something like fantasy that shows up in the midst of a tragic year.
\\ Questions for reflection
What have you seen or learned or experienced in your life that make childlike wonder and fantasy seem doubtful?
What is behind the red door?