In 2017, i understand adopted a new symbol – a work of art created by Daniel Carlson for ArtPRize, an annual event that transforms the city of Grand Rapids into an art festival. The event attracts hundreds of artists and thousands of spectators. The Door is Always Open is a larger-than-life work of art in copper and steel. It stands more than fifteen feet high and depicts a cage, a man and a butterfly. Imagine a giant birdcage with a man standing inside. The figure of the man is composed of circular pieces of steel, a metal that is tough but deteriorating. The man, seemingly immovable and trapped by his fierce hold on the bars, is unaware of the open door behind him. The Door is Always Open perfectly captures the message of i understand. It offers a visual that evokes a question: “What does this man in the cage represent?”

The Cage with an Open Door

Why the open door? Even though we know help is available, we struggle to act when situations are hard or when things are difficult to discuss. The door is open, but we don’t walk through. Why are we afraid of the outside? Do we fear the unknown, the judgment of others or perhaps the denial within us? Each of these fears can explain the behavior of people in the cage. Then it is up to those of us outside the cage to recognize the pain of the person inside the cage, to walk in and to offer the help that is needed.

The Man

The man stands with his back to the open door and his hands clenched on the bars. He is crumbling before our eyes. It’s a symbol of feeling trapped within a struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction or an unhealthy relationship. It takes strength and courage to recognize suffering, talk to someone and seek help.

The man in The Door is Always Open is alone. No other people occupy the cage with him. He has not sought help. As a result, he is struggling inside. The internal battle is inflicting a heavy toll on his body. In the work of art, each circle represents a part of who he is. He is slowly losing himself, deteriorating. The man inside the cage vividly portrays someone in the throes of depression, the plight of over 90 percent of suicide victims. The man dwells in his own nightmare, failing to seek and then receive the help and support he so desperately needs. You look at his feet and see his deterioration, no longer having the strength to walk out the door alone. It takes courage – amid the darkness – to turn, face fears and walk through the open door. The man in the piece wastes away. Others do not have to.

Outside the Cage

The butterfly outside the cage represents freedom from the debilitation of depression. The outside of the cage is scary, as those inside fear judgment associated with mental/brain illness. We need to create a place of love without judgment or expectation. In this way, i understand works to help people recognize others who are trapped in their own cages. Looks can be deceiving. People in cages of mental distress walk past each of us every single day. We only know when we ask, Are you OK? Do you need help?

Those watching someone deteriorate need to muster the courage to walk through the door and offer help. Love heals.