It’s a good thing I like my house. As Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown drags on with no end in sight, we’re all getting used to being in our own spaces. One of the reasons I like my house is the windows, especially the ones in the back that let the sun stretch all the way across the floor whenever it takes a fancy. From those same windows, I can watch the songbirds gather at our bird feeder, and I can see the flowers bloom in our little garden. All of these things remind me that the world is bigger than the box I live in.
In the modern world, we don’t actually need windows, you know. We could live our lives almost entirely within climate controlled electrically charged smart spaces that would cater to our every need. We could do that without windows. In fact, sometimes the sunlight streaming across the room makes it harder for me to see my screen. And since windows are generally less efficient insulators than walls, they can also make controlling the indoor climate harder. Are windows really worth the extra hassle and expense? Of course they are.
Yes, we could build houses without windows. But we don’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. Instead of using our modern technologies to eliminate windows, we’ve actually been putting in more of them. The old cottages around us in Ireland have tiny windows, while modern houses have sunrooms. And that’s nothing compared to the office buildings, which are almost always covered in glass as if the entire structure is one giant window, one enormous eye, looking out. Because that’s what windows do, isn’t it? They look out. Yes, you can look in them as well, but that’s not why they exist (it’s also a bit rude). Windows exist to look out of, to give the eyes in the box a view of the world around them, and to give the sun a path to reach us with its warmth and light, even while we’re inside.
That’s why we need windows. We spend so much of our time (especially now) inside our comfortable little boxes—it can be easy to forget that there’s a big world beyond them. The warm sunlight penetrating my own back windows reminds me that it travelled millions of miles to land on my floor. The birds I see at my feeder remind me that they live out their generations outdoors, without any need for wifi or microwaves. Even when the sun is blocked by clouds and the birds are missing, the windows still show me a glimpse of reality beyond my own. It’s a glimpse that includes other people’s realities, because every window in my house gives me a view of other houses, where other people live, just like me. There’s a lot of world out there, and there’s a lot of little worlds like mine out there, enclosed inside their own walls and windows.
The idea of lockdowns is to keep our little worlds separated, so that we can’t share the virus. The danger of lockdowns is that it keeps our little worlds separated, so that we can’t share life. If we let them, the lockdowns could shrink our lives down to only ourselves, only our own desires, only our own needs. Please, I beg you, don’t go there. Don’t draw the curtains and retreat into the climate controlled comfort of your own company. Don’t forget the world outside, or the living worlds in all the other houses like yours. Some of them are struggling. Some of them are losing hope, closing their curtains, living in the shadows. It’s possible that a word from you could bring a ray of hope and light to them. But that won’t happen unless you leave the windows of your life open to others, to see them, to give and receive from them, to reach out to them and let the light of their worlds also shine in to your own. There are many ways to do this, even in lockdown, and your own soul was made (like a window) to look out, not in. I know it’s not as easy as retreating and looking after yourself alone. It’s not as comfortable, either. But the world is still out there, and it’s a lot bigger than the box you’re in.
Please leave the windows open.