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Life Without Doors

Maceio, Brazil
Photo Courtesy of T. Thomas
Tiffany Thomas D’11 with young friends in Maceio, Brazil.
Tiffany Thomas D’11 with young
friends in Maceio, Brazil.

My bedroom door has always been an important part of my life. I used my door as a communication tool; I often slammed it to show my anger and discontent. It was a source of privacy when I wanted to be alone. Finally, my door was a source of security — I could only go to sleep at night if my door was closed. I currently live in a house in which my bedroom has no door.

When I realized this, I was certain that I simply could not live without a door. How would I change clothes? How would I have personal time? Most importantly, how would I sleep? I needed privacy. I needed security. I needed a door.

Living without a door has been one of the most enlightening experiences. First, as it turns out, I can sleep just fine without a door. Also, living without a door grants total access to my personal space. People come into my room whenever they please, without knocking (as I write this in my journal, my host mother just came in to open the window to give me more light). They come in to retrieve things from the closet, to look in the mirror, but mostly, they come in to chat and to hang out with me. They come in to see how I am doing and to practice their English.

Initially, I was very uncomfortable. How did they function without a bedroom door? Where was the privacy? Where was the “me time”? But I have found that my bedroom is a microcosm of this community. The people live in a community without doors. While the apartments have actual doors, neighbors run in and out of each other’s houses without knocking, children eat with different families, and everyone gathers together inside and outside of the homes to talk, dance, and watch TV.

Everyone in this community is so familiar with each other that I thought that they were all related. I finally asked my host mother: “Voces son familia?” (Are you all family?)

She responded, “Familia da Igreja” (family of the church). I was in awe when I realized that everyone in this building attends the same church. That’s right: I am witnessing real and actual church community. I thought that this was something that only took place in the biblical book of Acts. I thought that this was something that Christians could attempt, but never accomplish, like counting to infinity. But I have found that Christian community can exist when we get rid of the desire to be closed off, when we let people into our personal space, when we treat our Christian brothers and sisters as actual brothers and sisters. Christian community can exist when we decide to live without doors.

Excerpted from the July 3, 2009, blog entry by Tiffany Thomas, a candidate for the master of divinity degree. She was among three divinity students from Duke who served a 10-week summer field education placement in Brazil.

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