Five years ago when I moved into my apartment, one of the first people I met was the woman with the black, silken hair and piercing blue eyes. Her features and her presence were striking and teetered on a famous actress roaming around Hollywood. But, rather than any diva attitude, she was the warm and cozy mother who loved to garden, walk her dog, and talk about her endearing husband and strapping sons who were each close to my age and already married. And, yes, she got along just fine with her daughter-in-laws. She had the simple and perfect life on the surface. She was perfect—like a woman that you would maybe see from the 1950’s TV shows who stayed at home to build the perfect family for her perfect life. I already was blessed with an incomparably extraordinary Stepmother, but maybe, just maybe, this woman could be like a mother in my new apartment surroundings.
In many ways, when I first moved into my apartment, she began to fit a slight motherly role to me as I embarked on my new “flying solo” lifestyle in my brand new apartment. We would have talks while she walked her dog. She brought me to “Home Depot” to buy potted plants and flowers to bloom and grow on my brand new patio and surrounding gardens and areas. She gave me a lemon balm plant and handed me a leaf of it in her perfectly manicured hand, saying to me: “Try it. It is delicious!” Of course, she was right! She even suggested red gardening clogs and tools to get my knees and hands in the earth. She helped me file a police report when I naively gave my money to a strange man in the middle of the night—long story! Five years ago and as each year passed by, she always said to me: “Mary, if you need anything, just let me know.”
Well, I needed her and any other neighbors who could help me as I returned back and all alone to my apartment. Although I was in the ‘now’, I felt like I was in the ‘then’ when I has first moved in to my apartment and was at one of my low points of not knowing what I was doing or what was going on because I was so wrapped up in this fear of living and being all alone.
Recently, she knew that something was wrong when she glimpsed my Dad bringing out my garbage and when I gave a weak wave upon her calling out my name to greet me. Again, she said to me while I was forcing myself to walk around my apartment complex, “Mary, if you need anything, please do let me know. I’m here. I’m available. I’ll help.”
So, I took her up on her offer. My dad always said to me that if someone offers their help to take it. One of my closest friends said to me that people want to help, but they just do not know how to—so you tell them, let them help you, and you help others again when that time comes.
On an unusually warm weekday for the often blustery autumn season, the woman with the black hair and blue eyes showed up at my doorstep in sweats and a Lucille Ball travel mug in her hand. She immediately got to work without me asking or explaining too much with cleaning my bathroom and doing my laundry. Then, she zonked out on my plush, red couch and kept eagle eyes on me while I tried to vacuum at a very slow and steady pace. Believe it or not, vacuuming is one of my favorite household chores. Especially since I purchased a new “Shark” vacuum that was one lightweight and feisty sucker that nearly took up and in my carpet along with any tiny dust particle. I love the whirring sound of the vacuum; It could probably lull me into a sweet baby sleep.
When I flicked off the vacuum, the sun streamed through and a serene silence permeated throughout the room. In the stillness, she suddenly began to share her stories with me. A bitter divorce. A physical assault at work that led to nearly irreversible damages to her back that then led to multiple surgeries. Everything in her life boiling down to her three sons and the new husband that she had devoted the rest of her life to. It is always a startling blessing to me that it is when we are doing the simple and routine tasks that complications are revealed.
Our conversations of life carried over to when we were working on the bedsheets. Our time was going to come to an end. I was almost sad about it. When she was about to leave, she said to me, “Did you know that my father is still alive? 92-years-old. He has some wise things to say every now and then. Have you heard about the ‘Keeping Your Keys’ story?”
I shook my head.
“He said that if we in a room all together and placed our keys at the very center of a coffee table to let our guards down and fully share our lives that he could bet you would want to leave the room with your own set of keys. You would never want anyone else’s set of keys. You would only want yours.”
With that, she gave me a warm, tight, and long hug. She was suddenly gone.
I thought about what she said. If someone (most likely God or the ‘higher being’ that I always believe and speak about) descended down to me with an open palm said asked, “Would you like to give me your keys? I could give them to someone else so you can live their life, and they could live your life. They would and could know about the surgeries you have had to have, the absence of your mother, the health struggles you have had to overcome…your life all the way. Perhaps you would want the keys of a woman who had found her true love and he returned her love and they were married and had children? You know, the seemingly simple life that you always wanted? Perhaps you give me your keys and you will be free of the fear of the future of anymore health problems, or memories of what you have had to endure physically with your health and emotionally and mentally with everything revolved around them?”
I probably would have happily and without any reservations at all handed my keys then, but not now.
Throughout my life and especially in my teens when I was dealing with the return of kidney failure and the absence of my mother at the same time, I wanted to trade off and give up my life to someone (really anyone) else. I do not think that I have ever been alone in the wishes and images of leaving my life even just temporarily for someone else’s life. Haven’t you wanted to trade your life for someone else who appeared so perfect and free from any problems? Hasn’t life been more than you could bear at times, so you wanted another person’s life? Do you think you would actually live another person’s life and not your own?
My dad and many people have said to me that it is wrong and unfair that someone my age has had to go through what I have had to go through. I used to feel this way. I used to be encased in bitterness and anger that made me ask time and time again: “Why Me? This shouldn’t be happening to me, because I’m a good person. Life is wrong and unfair. God is to blame for letting all of this happen to such a good person as me.” But, now, I no longer feel like my life has been any less fair than others. I feel like everyone’s life somehow balances out in the end. If it is not physical ailments, it is emotional and mental anguish—and vice versa. We all have our problems, issues, and struggles to encounter and endure. We all have imperfect lives and are imperfect beings because we are human and just trying to go through our each and every day and overcome obstacles to be all the better. These problems, pain, and suffering (whether they be concrete like the physical aspect or illusive like emotional and mental), make us all the more rather than less. For everything that I had to deal with, I took away greater life lessons revolved around the people I love, strength, courage, gratitude, love, soul, and so much more that could never be fully captured in words. For everything that has been bitter, unfair, or ignited anger, I find the peace, happiness, and sweetness in the love and goodness surrounding me. For everything that I have lost, I have gained all the more.
Yes, I’ll be ‘Keeping my Keys.’ I’ll continue living my very own life, in spite of everything that has happened and will happen. I continue to live my life with purpose and passion that I’m not sure others could live this way if they had my life. I only want my own life.
Will you keep your own set of keys? Perhaps you will not know the value of your keys until you no longer have them.
Until we meet again.
Miss Mary ;-)