Every week or so I visit a friend on the Westside of town and stay over to avoid the long traffic commute the following morning for nearby work meetings. This usually involves attending morning Mass at the nearby church, then heading back to her place to get ready to head out.
This morning was no less usual, at least to start. I made it to Mass and heard a great homily from the priest from today’s reading on the vine and the branches – that it’s not enough for us to be in union with Christ, that we must bear fruit (i.e. help do good) as well. I left the service with a good footing for the day and walked back to my friend’s place to pack up.
Coming back to her place, I pulled the spare key she provided out of my back pocket – only to find that the key wouldn’t open the door. Everything is inside. I have no other keys on me, no phone, nothing. Just this key, my hat, and me. I try the lock a few more times. No luck. Hoping that there might be another spare in the garage storage, I run downstairs and check. Nada. Maybe try knocking, her roommate might still be home? Kapooie. I plop myself down in front of her door. Think, think. It looks like I’m going to have to try something else.
Ok, there are a lot of people around here. I’ll see if I can ask to borrow their phone to call my friend. I don’t remember her number though. I’ll have to call someone else who has it. That’s two calls. Seems like so much trouble. The last time I was in this situation, the person who I asked seemed rather annoyed. Oh boy. I walk by people walking their dogs, heading to work, off to school. They all look busy. I don’t want to bother them. That guy doesn’t even look like he has a phone on him. Ok, I can try to go to the parish office and ask to use their phone from there.
The parish office doesn’t open until 9am. I can go in and pray inside the church for a little while. What am I going to pray for though? That someone realizes I’m locked out and asks if I need to call someone? I didn’t exactly look like anyone in that situation there. Ok, God, I’m going to walk back, and the next person I see I trust is the person you want me to ask. There’s a lady across the street. I hesitate. She looks like she’s going in the other direction now. Sigh. Oh, but not she’s headed my way.
I explain my situation to her, she lets me make the call. Of course there is no pickup, so I leave a message. She can’t wait around for the person to call back though. Ok. At least I’ve let my morning meeting know. Onto the parish office. The woman there lets me use the phone. Call gets picked up this time! Everything is settled. Now I just have to go back and sit in front of the building and wait. 45 minutes or so.
As I’m sitting, I catch glimpses of the morning activity. I also notice that eye contact varies by age. Older people had more of a tendency to make eye contact and smile at you than those younger. Out of fear, preoccupation with other matters, who knows. The local garbage truck driver makes a young boy’s day by letting him sit in the driver seat of the truck while his mom takes a picture. I think it made the driver’s day too. There are a lot of dogs being walked. People say “hello” and “good morning” as they pass by.
Then an older woman surprises me. She asks if I’m ok. I explain that I’m locked out and just waiting for my friend to come home to unlock the door. She returns again to ask if I need to make a phone call. A neighbor in the building later asks the same, even offers to let me wait inside. That’s ok, I have to be out front so the other person who is coming can see me, but thank you. Wow, thank you.
I’d been stuck in worse situations before. Being separated from my mom for several hours in France a few years back for instance (a story for another day). What struck me most about this experience was the insight that came during the time sitting on the steps, waiting for help to arrive. That first, that I had to really ask for help. The priest’s morning homily was put to practical use sooner than I’d expected. Secondly, it seems God wanted me to discover the real spare key: the one which comes through other people when we ask. And if we’re attentive enough to others, to see the need in them from time to time too.
Clearly it was no accident then that the first spare key did not work. In a very real way I was reminded to not to try to go it alone – and that sometimes, you simply cannot do something on your own either. I definitely didn’t know how to break locks, that’s for sure. Probably really low on the bucket list too. As a friend once said, “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.” That the help of others is needed and encouraged to grow deeper in community with others. A humbling experience, indeed. And quite fun too, actually. Thankful for another great adventure.