The Hallway

By Ellen Debenport
Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door

Excerpted from Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door, Balboa Press, 2015

When one door closes, another one opens, but it can be hell in the hallway.

The hallway is that place between jobs, between relationships, during a major illness or after a permanent change or crisis. Life as you know it has ended, and you’re not sure what’s coming next.

Groping through the darkness, you might trip and fall down, or give up and cry. Or cuss. You can’t even begin to see a doorway out.

Yet this time of transition can be made meaningful and useful. It could become the launching pad for the rest of your life.

That’s what this book is about—how to make use of your time in the hallway, then walk out into the light, whether it’s the brilliant light of a new perspective or the dawning light of gradual acceptance.

Everyone spends time in the hallway. Chances are good you are in one now or know someone who is. Some typical hallways:

·       Someone you love has died.

·       A child is leaving home.

·       A baby is on the way.

·       A medical test is pending, a scary diagnosis has turned life upside-down, or recovery from illness is uncertain or impossible.

·       A new marriage is under way, or divorce is fresh.

·       You are going through unemployment, bankruptcy or foreclosure.

·       You are being forced to move, or you are choosing to move.

·       You are changing jobs or retiring.

Of course, not every difficult situation counts as a major life transition. A fight with your spouse, living with an obstinate 2-year-old or suffering a bout of flu are typical episodes that thankfully will come to an end. The hallway in contrast is marked by a definite door closing, an unmistakable shift in circumstances. It’s a change that initially might beat you down but inevitably calls you higher.

This experience is an opportunity for nothing less than spiritual transformation. It might seem to have been forced upon you, and your first task might be to recover from heartbreak, betrayal, fear, grief or anger. But this painful period can be redeemed and, with conscious and deliberate attention, you will emerge with a changed view of yourself and new possibilities for your life.

When the dark night comes upon you—not if it will, but when it does—it’s part of your soul’s curriculum. Something will happen that you didn’t want to have happen. The first thing you do is everything you can do to try to make it go away. When you discover your personal power is not big enough to make it go away, if you surrender to it … a strange feeling will come over you that you don’t want it to end too soon, because you really do want everything it came to give you.—Mary Morrissey

How Did I Get Here?

Doors close in different ways. Some slam shut: You get fired, your spouse walks out, your body breaks down, a loved one dies. Sometimes disability or illness in the immediate family rearranges all your plans.

Other doors slowly creak shut: You plan for retirement for years, or you prepare for the last child to leave home. Transition starts long before the event. Even though you know it’s coming, the closing door means a permanent shift in your life.

Sometimes you close the door yourself and—boldly or with trepidation—step into the hallway: You end a relationship, move to a new city, start a new career, or leave a job without having the next one lined up.

And some hallways are invisible to the observer; they are only experienced within. This is often part of a spiritual shift, when divine discontent prompts you to close doors and undertake complete transformation, like a caterpillar entering a cocoon. You may or may not be aware that, at some level, you volunteered for it.

We will discuss each type of change in more detail. Just remember, all hallways begin with something that has ended, and the experience might look and feel like profound loss at first, might seem as if your life has gone terribly awry. But change is the only way life can be made better, and “better” often requires leaving behind what was merely good.

Hallways sometimes look worse than they are. We might dread them and resist them, resent them and avoid them with far more energy than it would take to move through them.

Terry Anderson, a reporter who was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years, said: “It would be a shame if I went through that experience and didn’t change. I had lots of time to think about who I am, what I believe, what’s really important to me.”

Or fighter pilot Charlie Plumb, who was shot down and held as prisoner of war in Vietnam for six years. He first considered it a colossal waste of time. Yet years after he was freed, he said it was a “beautiful gift.”

A gift! Trapped in an 8 by 8 foot cell, not knowing whether he would live from day to day.

He said nothing could have taught him more.

“There’s great value in getting blown out of the sky once in a while,” Plumb said in a speech. “There’s great value in that wakeup call that forces you and me to re-examine the way we’re doing business. Said a little differently, adversity is a horrible thing to waste.”

I am astonished at the gifts that can be received in the midst of painful adjustments to a new life. Going through chemo, losing a child, being laid off, saying good-bye too soon. You don’t have to claim such events were blessings in disguise. You don’t have to believe they were necessary. But good can always come from them.

These days, I’ve come to respect the hallway. It’s not so scary to me now because I know good stuff can happen there. Growth happens there. These days I can willingly walk into the hallway and say, “O.K. bring it on!” and know that when I have done my work, a new door will pop right open, and I will walk through, confident of the new and exciting experiences the Universe is eager to provide.—Rachel

Rachel makes the hallway sound downright happy, doesn’t she? But she knows the depths of its pain. You will read her story in Part Two.

Here’s another view, from a man who experienced excruciating grief after a friend’s death. His full story is in Part Two as well.

It is said that when God closes one door, he opens another. But he had thrown me face first into the pitch-black hallway and slammed shut the door to a normal life … let alone a joyful one. And there was no hope of another door anywhere.—Jerry Magar

An Inside Job

People regularly tell me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” which is patently untrue. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you ruins your life, if you let it. Some people are forever weakened by events and never re-emerge. And sometimes, what kills you is supposed to do exactly that. Death eventually will claim each of us, and the process of dying can be most profound, healing and loving transition of all.

There is no disgrace in scrambling to find your bearings in the hallway, and you will read more in later chapters about that initial confusion.

An oncologist once told me that high anxiety seems to short-circuit people’s brains. He called it “cerebral fibrillation,” which I suppose is medical humor to describe what the Buddhists call monkey mind, a brain that can’t focus, become still or settle on solutions.

But then bravery kicks in. The doctor said the best and bravest people he sees are ordinary women, mostly middle-aged, who would never think of themselves as courageous. The key, he said, is to become comfortable with not being in control. There’s so much we don’t know. Even the doctors and experts don’t know.

You won’t always know how you ended up in a dark and unfamiliar place, or why or how long you’ll be there. Regardless of what happened in your life, what happens next is an inside job. And therein lies the key to maneuvering through each hallway to a new door.

You are the creator of your experience, which means you have more power than you have yet imagined. You are not a victim of circumstance or of other people’s problems, and this is not a test from God. You are a spiritual being having a human experience, and you have the ability to call forth divine energy, even in the darkest hallway.

Look closely, and you might see a crack of light shining underneath the next door.

Bits of Wisdom

·       The hallway is that place of uncertainty when one door has closed and the next has not yet opened.

·       Doors might slam shut or creak shut. Some you close yourself. But all hallways are journeys of inner transformation.

·       Change is the only way life gets better. Sometimes receiving what is better means releasing what was good.

·       It takes less energy to move through the hallway than to avoid or deny it.

·       No matter how a door was closed, the work of the hallway is an inside job.

·       Your growth in the hallway, and the next door you open, are within your creative power.

This Prayer Is for You

Divine love and support are with you as you dwell in this time of uncertainty. You may be feeling loss in your life and dread for the future, or you might be thrilled with anticipation. Either way, your life is changing.

No matter what brought you into the hallway, know you are not alone. So very many have been here before you, and a new door will open. You will leave this experience with gifts and insights.

Turn within now. Search more deeply than you might ever have searched before. Inside, you will discover that all the guidance, clarity and strength you need are available to you.

Immerse yourself in the awareness of a Presence that is stronger, more powerful and more loving than you can imagine. You are never separate from this divine Presence; you are one of its many expressions. Draw from it like a deep well to nourish yourself on this journey.


Rev. Ellen Debenport is author of The Five Principles (Unity Books, 2009) about universal spiritual laws. Her latest book, Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door (Balboa Press, 2015), deals with the spiritual path through transition and change. Formerly a news reporter for United Press International and the Tampa Bay Times, she is currently the minister at Unity of Wimberley, Texas. Her website is ellendebenport.com.