Losing Keys, Finding Life

How One Writer’s Misplaced Item Taught Her to Embrace the Stream of Existence

Courtesy Photo

Today I spent an hour standing in a Buellton parking lot with my hand on a supermarket cart whose grocery contents included melting ice cream. It was my shopping cart, a home base in a world of shifting sands, but I hoped this wasn’t a foreshadowing of my future.

Somehow in the brief distance and time between exiting my car and shopping for groceries, I had lost my car key. I had lost it so entirely that retracing my steps through every aisle of the store, poring through the produce, peering into my car windows, and even poking around beneath the car all yielded not a trace. I asked store managers, checkout people, random employees, and customers. Absolutely no one had seen my key. I searched until I could no longer reimagine myself tucking it into my purse or even recall what it felt like in my hands. I would have doubted its very existence if not for its essential role in my automobile’s undisputed presence in the lot.

I know. These things happen. But lately they have been happening to me too often. Objects vanish into thin air. Attention and intentions meander. Commitments slip between cracks. Things go bump in broad daylight. Words and facts elude me. There’s so much losing, so much loss.

It fills my heart with new compassion for how my mother used to be. I would wonder, how in God’s name does she lose her teeth? Or how can she not remember that she ate lunch just an hour ago? Or … seriously? Her hearing aid is missing again? I’m afraid my general posture was often one of exasperation. But how disoriented and vulnerable she must have felt, and how brave she was, the way she always tried to smile it away, the way she kept on moving through the fog.

Now I am the one veering off course, forgetting, losing, getting in the way of folks who know what they’re doing. Whether this is a temporary condition or the beginning of a steeper decline, I hope it will render me more patient and forgiving forevermore.

Living is hard, even for the privileged. There’s so much to understand, so little time to do so.

And I’ve been holding tight to a block of sadness since my mother’s death, all the while losing keys and actual moments, the very present in which the universe exists. Maybe it’s time to ponder what Thích Nhất Hạnh advises: Let go of the stream of distress and embrace life fully in your arms.

Let’s face it: Things disappear. People leave. The step is lower than we thought, the wall much nearer to the nose, the rise in the pavement stumblingly abrupt. Certainties we counted on turn out to be sketchy. I resolve to slow down and pay attention, as my husband advised when he rescued me with a spare key.

Afterward I had a wedge of coconut cake, and I stopped by to say happy birthday to a gentleman who just turned 95, and I heard the canyon wren, my favorite song. Life is very lovely sometimes when we’re not rushing through it, especially if we recognize our own ridiculousness and remember to be kind.

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