God Knows What

Everyday coincidences are those that don’t exactly blow your mind. Such as when the toast pops up at the moment you were wondering if the toast was going to pop up.   Or when your daughter asks you if you would take her shopping right at the moment when you were hoping she wouldn’t ask you.

Then, there are those situations where the chances are rare that they would happen but, still, not earth shattering. When you have two home runs in two consecutive games, and each one happened when your shoes were untied. Or the same telemarketer calls you on three different occasions when, each time, you were boiling eggs.

And then, there are the mothers of all coincidences. The ones that leave you shell-shocked and speechless. These are the ones that have you searching all over the vast landscapes of religion, the supernatural, and the meaning of life—looking for concrete answers. They are situations that lead you to believe that a higher power is at the helm. Suddenly there’s a lot of truth to the saying that God works in mysterious ways.   But if you’re going to show proof of your existence, wouldn’t it be a lot easier if you just shook my hand? How about a postcard? A text? Why do you have to do it in such a bizarre fashion? Or is it you in the first place? Something is being communicated to you through the coincidence, but it’s far too difficult to decipher. So there you go—trying to explain the coincidence—bouncing back and forth between God and, well, God knows what.

For me, I had my mind blown on August 4, 2007.

Here we go again: I had lost my keys.

As a runner, I was ready to hop in the car and head to an area in town where I like to do my hill training. When I woke that morning, my legs felt strong, and the outside temperature was pleasant for a Texas summer. I had a small window of time to do the workout, as I had to return home to shower before heading to a meeting.

I made my way to the door leading into the garage. Next to the door was a little wall mount that had hooks for hanging keys. My spare set of car keys was there, but I noticed that my main set, that had a very important church key, was not. The key gave me access to a church gym in town where I coached my ten year-old daughter’s basketball team. The church secretary entrusted me with the key to the main door. Her unforgettable last words, “Have fun with basketball and, remember, don’t lose that key.”

Don’t lose that key. Don’t lose that key. I had lost that key.

There are two classifications of people who buy these key holders. There are those who actually hang their keys on them and always know where their keys are. Then there are the absentminded others, who buy the hooks for the purpose of hanging keys but, instead, end up using them to hold school backpacks, belts, dog leashes and, of course, misfit keys that neither fit any lock in the house nor do they start any vehicle. It would not be unusual for many of those items to remain on the hooks until the day you sell your house.

The frantic search began immediately as all I could think about was if I didn’t find this original set of keys it would mean no hill training. When a runner misses a much anticipated workout, they become sour, ugly people. Much like taking tools away from a carpenter, or depriving Kevin Hart of comedy.

High and low, far and wide I searched the house. My mood was swinging like a wrecking ball, threatening anything in its path. I reached a desperate situation whereby I said to my three kids, “Ten dollars to the first person who finds my keys.” No one budged. “Okay, what about fifteen?” A couple of raised eye brows, but no big stir. “Twenty?” I said, though I kept silent the fact that I didn’t specify dollars or cents. The troops began moving about, combing the area.

With the scheduled meeting an hour and half away, my window of time for running was narrowing. After twenty minutes, I called an end to the search as my running addiction overcame me. I grabbed the spare set of car keys from the wall hook, jumped in the car, and headed for the hills. As I drove, I mentally retraced my steps trying to recall when I last had the keys. Where did I put them? How would I explain the loss to the church?

I’m the worst having to admit I screwed up. I always want to create some kind of blame, because I hate to disappoint. You loan me a car, and I’ll tell you I’ll have it back tomorrow by noon. Well, noon rolls around and I’m racking my brain to come up with some explanation as to why the front axle is split in half. I wouldn’t dare admit that I drove it into the pit at the oil change service bay. So I attempt to blame it on how it hit a deer. You look me in the eyes and say, “You hit a deer? Can you please explain how only the front axle was damaged? And really, split in half by a deer?”

I want to blame the world for this lost key. I want to tell the church secretary my son threw it at a bird, and the bird caught it in its beak and flew away. I want to tell the crazy person lie: Excuse me ma’am, but I don’t remember any key. Before long, my fast-acting conscience drops a bucket load of guilt. The burden of this predicament rests on my shoulders. Perhaps a good run will clear my mind and help solve the key mystery.

The entire drive, I couldn’t shake it: Where are those keys?…Where are those keys?…WHERE. ARE. THOSE. KEYS!? A quarter mile away from my running destination, I turned onto the road that led me to my training hills. The church had trusted me! As I drove, I noticed there were a series of direction signs that indicated this was also a detour route for another road had been washed out due to recent heavy rains. There were three signs with bold direction arrows strategically placed to guide people along the detour. I thought nothing of these directions until I noticed the last sign that was located at a “Y” in the road.   The sign was secured to an A-frame support by a large bolt that was pierced through its top.

Here everything shifted into slow motion. Super slow-mo. Like the folks dodging bullets in The Matrix. There, on that bolt, hung a black object—an object’s shape I was all too familiar with: the shape of my car’s security remote device. Like a turtle I stretched my neck forward, trying to visually absorb every inch of curiosity towards that hanging object. “No way!” I shouted. I spun the car in a U-turn and parked on a grassy shoulder. Out of the car, I made my way to the sign. Hanging on that bolt were, in fact, my keys and—save my life—the church key!

Everything quickly fell into place and began making sense. I had run in this area with my son ten days before. When I parked, I had hid the keys under the car. It turns out that after our workout, my son had gotten in the car first, and had started it with a spare valet car key that I keep in the driver’s side door. When I got in, I thought nothing of the fact that a spare key was in the ignition as opposed to the keys I had hidden. I absentmindedly drove away, leaving the keys in the grass.

Though there was an explanation for why the keys showed up that morning—that someone had found them and put them on the bolt, thinking that by chance the owner might be looking for them—I couldn’t help but wonder, Was there something else going on? This was more than just a coincidence. Coupled with hammering my brain about the whereabouts of my keys, and having taken a route at that same moment that led to them hanging on a bolt for me to see, I was completely speechless.

In the midst of the excitement and relief of that bizarre discovery, questions arose: What is this all about? I know it’s just a set of keys, but is this a God thing? Or is this just plain luck? Is it a little of both? Football players thank God for winning games. Survivors of airplane crashes thank God for life. What about the losers? Who do they get to thank? Oh, thank you God for allowing us to miss that last second field goal that would have clinched the championship. We look forward to your unfortunate blessing same time next year.

What about all those people who never found their keys? Or found them too late, only to miss a very important appointment? They’re not thanking anyone. At most they’re blaming someone for their problems or are kicking chairs and piles of dirty laundry. There’s nothing like having a bunch of inanimate objects around the house to beat up on when the going gets rough.

For whatever reason, one-in-a-million coincidences evoke immediate feelings of a higher power. Yet even if God is to be our go-to reason, that wasn’t what eventually consumed my mind. What struck me was how alive I felt. It was exactly that—living that feeling. How neat it was to experience such an odd and mysterious moment. I was speechless and giddy. The fact that I was adamant about going to those hills to run coupled with the fact that I knew I had to find those keys, resulted in a finding that was beyond the odds of luck. It was much like the feeling experienced by anyone who’s seen the Grand Canyon for the first time—mind blowing. Taking in the moment for all its worth was what mattered.

But now, eight years later, as I look back on that day, something else matters: who or what allowed for that moment, that incredible coincidence, that gift? To that, I have my certainty, and to Him I say, “Thanks.”

Copyright Ros Hill 2015

 

 

Keys

You couldn’t pay an infant with a year’s supply of applesauce to let loose a set of keys. Once they are in the tight clutch of a baby’s hands, it is nearly impossible to pry them free. However, along the way to adulthood, something happens to the grip on those keys. They no longer intrigue us like in the good ol’ days. In fact, the way we carelessly place them anywhere and everywhere, it would make you wonder that, perhaps in some unconscious way, we are determined to create a situation that is guaranteed to drive us nuts.

I am one of those lost infants…

I’m on schedule for taking my son, Brandon, to his first high school football practice. We all know what happens if you are late: it’s an hour’s worth of God-help-me fatiguing exercises: Gut Busters, Back Breakers, Bone Crackers, and the infamous Suicides. And if that’s not enough, at the end of Camp Medieval, the coaches will make sure you have a nice cool-down with a two-mile run….in pads. Brandon needs to be at practice at 8:20am. It is 7:30. We have plenty of time since I know it takes exactly twenty-one minutes to get from our house to the high school. My thoughts are rational and clear:

Hmmm. Can’t find my keys. No problem, I’ll just check the little hook thing for keys on the wall by the door to the garage—the hook thing that I bought at the hardware store to hang my keys on so I would never lose them.

The keys are not there. But it’s really no big issue, as I usually leave them on my dresser. With plenty of time, I casually walk back to my bedroom. Along the way, I take the time to pick up some dirty clothes that my kids have left strewn throughout the hallway. One of the items is my underwear. Quickly, I snatch it as I want to remain an example of how we shouldn’t leave clothes laying about. “Kids, there are dirty clothes in the hallway. Let’s put the dirties in the laundry basket.” I shove my underwear into my pocket, gather up the clothes, and then continue my way to the bedroom. There, I find that my dresser countertop is clean.

“Hmmm. That’s strange. I could’ve sworn I left them here.” I check my watch: 7:33. Plenty of time to get Brandon to practice. But where are my keys?

I take the pile of clothes to the laundry room located at the other end of the house. My three kids are eating breakfast as I pass through the kitchen, repeating my dirty-clothes-let’s-be-responsible announcement. A nearby television is on. With their eyes glued to Animal Planet, they shovel spoonfuls of Captain Crunch into their mouths. (By the way, Captain Crunch does no adult any good to remind their kids about dirty clothes when, as they crunch, you might as well be whispering to them through a sofa cushion.)

In the laundry room, I notice a pair of my pants in the laundry basket. I check the pockets for my keys. There are none. Were these really the pants I wore yesterday? How soon I forget.

And that, right there—when you begin to question what it was you were wearing the day before—is the first sign that finding the keys might be an uphill climb. While there’s still time to get your son to football practice, your brow narrows, your lips press together and, like an upset bull, you blow a quick, frustrating shot of air out your nostrils.

The hunt begins. You walk around all the obvious places where you have found the keys before. This includes all the countertops in the kitchen (under the pile of mail and coupon pages, behind the bananas next to the toaster, and under your wife’s purse). Sure, the bananas are a stretch, but they’ve been there before. Looking under the mess of post-it notes, a heap of junk mail, and an empty AA battery package on top of the microwave are no keys. There’s an open phone book next to one of the kids slurping milk from the bottom of the cereal bowl. You flip it over to find nothing.

Sure was a great idea I bought that little hook thing for keys at the hardware store.

The time is 7:41. I need to leave the house by 7:59 to make it to the high school. (Trust me, after 6,000 trips to the school, a parent gets to know the clock quite well.) My wife, who has been curling her hair, streaks through the kitchen. “I’m late. Gotta go to work. Please take out two frozen packages of ground turkey for tonight.”

Like a worried puppy I look at her and say, “Have you seen my keys?” This is the second sign that searching for the keys is getting worse because it shows dependency. But at the same time something stubbornly dumb inside of me wants to man it up like: Ah, I don’t need directions—I know how to fix it. Or, I don’t need a map—I know how to get there.

“You lost your keys, again?” It’s that “again” that kills you.

“Again?” I say, “Whatever. Look, I didn’t lose them. I just can’t find them.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Yes.” But that’s all I can say. I have nothing to back up my one word answer. Nor do I want to. I’m running out of time and I need help. “Can you take Brandon to the high school?”

And that’s sign number three —asking others to do what you were supposed to do. You now know that your inability of finding the keys has marked you a failure.

“No, I can’t take him. I’m late as it is. That’s ten minutes out of the way. Did you look on the dresser?” She asks several obvious places where I know the keys aren’t to be found. Then, in the wink of an eye, she’s gone. I sink into a living room chair, next to the TV where, on Animal Planet, a snow rabbit is running frantically away from a mountain lion, dashing left and right in deep snow, helplessly trying to find a way out.

Likewise, frantically looking for my keys, which are my way out, I realize that I am that fluffy fur ball of a snow bunny. It is a bitter pill to swallow. I turn off the TV and quickly silence any objections. “Look,” I say, “No more TV until we find my keys. Has anyone seen them?”

“I saw them.” says the nine year old.

“Where?” I ask, full of hope.

“In Florida.”

“Florida?   We live in Texas. What do you mean Florida?”

“The Florida Keys. Get it? Ha, ha, ha, ha…”

It’s a pretty clever joke for her age, but cleverness isn’t what I’m after. Just keys!

The time is 7:52.

I have seven minutes left. Judging by my escalating impatience, you would think that someone had placed a detonating device in the house, and if I didn’t find the keys—the kids, the TV, Captain Crunch, and my floppy little bunny ears—were going to be blown to the moon. Worse than that, though, is the fact that as I sit in the chair—slumped into what is quickly becoming a massive senior moment—I have surrendered to the fact that the keys are in a place that is anyone’s guess.

What happens next is the fourth and final sign that not only are your keys lost, but your mind is as well—you are the master of your nuthouse. You begin looking for them in the most obscure places: under the bag of cotton balls in the bottom drawer of the downstairs bathroom, inside a tissue box atop a toilet, behind a jar of pickles in the pantry, and even under a bag of egg roles at the bottom of the deep freezer in the garage. Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, the avalanche of blame hits town. The time is 7:58. “HAS ANYONE SEEN MY KEYS!!!!?”

“Take a chill pill, Dad,” says Brandon, “You act like it’s our fault.”

Remember, because I’m going insane, it justifies my replying, “Oh and like I lost them? I didn’t lose them. I just forgot where I put them. But they were put somewhere, which means someone has moved them.”

Brandon, who’s going to make a fine cross-examiner one day, says, “From where did someone move them?”

The idiot on trial says, “From where I put them.”

“And where was that?”

Lost minds are hard to repair. My mouth stutters and stops, eventually spitting out Shakespearean gibberish, “From the place whence came them.”

It’s a losing conversation. We both give up.

Brandon is only fourteen. Unfortunately for him, he will have to endure whatever Hell it is that his drill sergeant coaches demand of him. The time is 8:03. Even if I found the keys at this point, I would have to run every stop sign through town to make it to the high school on time. That would also be the last great thrill of Brandon’s life. “Awesome, Dad, awesome! Drive faster! FASTER!! The cops would chase us. The news helicopter would film us:

We are live in Chopper Five, following a white Honda mini-van that has just blown through seven police barricades en route to what we believe is the high school. We now have information that the vehicle is occupied by a father and son. The father, who is a psychological train wreck, is trying to get his son to football practice on time. Rumor has it the bozo’s late because he lost his keys. Too bad for this guy though—his son’s going to be late, as we can see from up here that the team is already in their warm-up formation on the field about a quarter mile away. Yep, not only will this kid probably never walk again due to the gut-wrenching, Butt-Buster Suicides he’ll have to do, but after he crawls home tonight, he’s gonna finish his dad off with an axe. You go kid—we’re rootin’ for ya!   Live from the skies, this is Chopper Five reporting!”

“Dad, what’s that in your pocket?” asks the nine-year old.

I shake the news helicopter out of my mind. “What?”

“In your pocket. That looks like underwear sticking out? Why do have underwear in your pocket? Why don’t you wear it? Are you weird?”

I had forgotten that I shoved the underwear into my pocket when I was picking up clothes. Still in a Chopper Five daze, I pull it out. In doing so, I hear a metal jingling at the bottom of the pocket—my keys. This is about as sad as it gets being a dad, a father, a man, a loser. Brandon throws up his hands in absolute disbelief. Because of this, my son will return home on crutches, and then most likely end my life with an axe. Chopper Five will get a national reporting award for capturing the whole event.

At 8:11 we jump in the van. As I back the car down the driveway, something dawns on me. I turn to Brandon and say, “Hey, have you seen my wallet?”

Copyright Ros Hill 2015