woman looking out windows
Art & Culture,  Stroll with Nicole

Windows on the world

Nicole Law reflects on the limits – and possibilities – of looking through the windows in our lives.

I have always been intrigued by Edward Hopper’s art and noticed his penchant for windows. Looking at the painting below, I was drawn to the light flooding the living space which encloses the woman. I also noticed the cramped nature of the space and how the outdoors was marked by looser brushstrokes as compared to the tight and even lines of the house and its interiors. 

Cape Cod Morning, Edward Hopper, 1950. Used under: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Photo provided by https://www.flickr.com/photos/gandalfsgallery/6799824380

Available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/gandalfsgallery/6799824380

Windows separate us from the world outside, allowing us to observe the events unfolding beyond and the passing of the seasons from an inner place. 

We are situated in a safe space, boxed in by the security of the physical houses we live in and the metaphorical protective walls we create to insulate us from pain and suffering. Yet, the window is also an invitation for us to venture into the risky world outside. Like the woman in the painting we can see what is happening beyond, the opportunities and possibilities that are also fraught with uncertainty and the possibility of loss.

It can seem safer to remain where we are, indoors, away from the elements and within a well established structure. 

Maybe we are feeling tender from bruises we have sustained and are nursing ourselves back to health. Maybe we fear the great expanse which lies outside. We all experience these seasons of sitting by the window watching the sun rise and set, attuning ourselves to the rhythm of life’s seasons. A season of renewal, of letting the sun pour down on the ‘orchard’ of our hearts, to bear new fruit in due course. 

Yet I’m keenly aware that this watching the exterior can also involve hesitation to leave our comfortable, though cramped interior space. Watching can be contemplation preparing for decisive action. It can also be cowardly delay.

Morning Sun, 1952 by Edward Hopper. Used under: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Photo provided by hermien_amsterdam on Flickr. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hermien_amsterdam/38964991654

I find myself often gazing out of windows to clear my mind, focussing on the building opposite or noticing minor details in the landscape. Perhaps that is why I tend to feel boxed in when I realise the room I am in has no windows. 

I throw open the windows as soon as I get out of bed, to let the morning light stream in. The window is a reminder that I am connected to the outer world and also that I can choose to be on either side of it. It demands nothing from us, it simply presents to us a whole range of realities, with all their risks, beyond its thin surface. We can choose whether to remain ensconced in familiarity or to step out of the window to the other side … to stay trapped by comfort in our soft sofa or feel the sand between our toes and the wind in our hair.

I see the open window now also as a pathway through which I must learn to travel to seek challenge and opportunity and also a way for me to return to what forms my core self. 

The last few years have been an exercise of venturing out, experiencing disappointment and disillusionment and sometimes going back to the sure foundations of who I am. 

The window, finally, forms my perspective of the world outside, albeit a limited one. If I only limit myself to the boundaries of the rectangular frame, I will miss out on the expanse that awaits me. The constraints placed by the window itself shapes how I perceive the external world. But such constraints are merciful: they give me life in doses, a vision I can cope with, a painting in motion I am able to assimilate and assess.

I am content now to sit by the window and to take up the role of observer. Perhaps when spring arrives again and the flowers start to bloom, I will remove the grilles on my window and step out into the warm sunshine, ready for the journey that awaits.

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Nicole Law is a writer for Adamah Media, who writes a column entitled 'Stroll with Nicole'. She is an educator based in sunny Singapore. Her calling is not only to mould young minds, but also to nourish souls through her faith-based podcast. She has a soft spot for burnt cheesecake, Dean Martin and swing dance. When she’s not engaging with her listeners, she’s planning new conversations for her podcast - she believes in the power of conversations and the beauty of our relationships.

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