My daughter who came home from P.E.I. for Christmas, told me very nonchalantly that she had called upon the services of a locksmith, while away. She had that familiar paranoia that haunts people, that she left the automatic coffee maker on. The locksmith broke into her house on short demand, and unplugged the machine, then hid the new key where she instructed.
It seems unnerving that someone should so easily be able to break into your house. I remember last time I copied keys at Home Depot, they had done away with the old metal lathe system. Instead, the man inserted the existing key, punched a code into the machine, which then did a perfect copy. When I wondered at this, he said that statistically, there are only about a hundred variations on that key, all stored digitally. With the key to your house, if you were to wander door to door in any city, you could (hypothetically) open up a certain number of houses whose key was the same version as your own.
Like most people, I have also had the unfortunate experience of dropping my keys in the car trunk just as I was closing it, with the car running. I had to call a local lock smith. He came, eyeballed me, and asked if I was a betting man. He told me then, that if I timed him, he was betting he could have the car jimmied open within the space of sixty seconds. Turns out he came in with time to spare. It was that easy.
It makes me think of three keys that were not so easy. Keys that I will never forget. They belonged to my wife’s elderly aunt, who is now over a hundred years old. Long ago I visited my wife in Nazareth Israel, in the time I was paying court. What I really wanted was for her to be my girlfriend. This was not so easy as it would seem. There was the matter of culture, and family standing in between. And the issue of appearances. I was not considering that a stranger with a backpack breezing through town, is not most father’s idea of a dream come true. I would have to pay court, in the presence of chaperones. It was a large circle, as Nazareth is a dense cluster where everyone knows everyone and everyone lives in every one else’s pocket, and people like me, were news. Everyone wanted an eyeball in on the story.
In Arabic culture, for a girl to be entertaining the romantic advances of an “Ajnabee” (outsider) was unthinkable. There was that issue of reputation. Those of western culture were considered to have bad morals. We don’t know how to conduct ourselves and we don’t understand the importance of family. There are such scandalous things as divorce in our culture. A wise father would be getting out his shotgun and sending the stranger packing by that point.
But for whatever reason, my future father-in-law was a wait-and-see kind of guy. He gave me a chance. That meant that I would be seen with his daughter in the presence of family under honourable pretences. They would have a chance to check me out. So would all the neighbours who were just dying to get the scoop. Meanwhile I was staying down at the only venue available, a hostel presided over by aged French Nuns.
For anyone who may not know elderly French Nuns up close, they are not flowing with the milk of human kindness. These ladies were very short of patience and always on the verge of wanting to kill me when I banged on the compound door at ten minutes after ten o’clock curfew, wanting to be let in. They eventually would open the door, after the requisite amount of begging and the kind of scolding only a nun can dish out. I had visions of myself kneeling on hard peas doing penance. The nuns were not happy. They were always on the verge of kicking me out for good. I was their favourite guy to hate.
And so it is that my future father-in-law thought of a better solution. His sister was going on vacation to Turkey, and I could sleep in her house for three weeks, which would take a bit of the stress off my sleeping arrangements. No nuns to haunt my dreams. There was a problem though. Getting into her compound.
To put a picture to it, Nazareth is crowded, and dense. Your home is a concrete and stone compound walled off from the street and from your neighbours. My wife’s aunt had broken glass on top of the stone wall so that no one would get too encouraged to climb over. She had a huge and ancient gate that was the outer level of difficulty. And as Nazareth goes, the neighbouring houses soared up around us on many levels like mini high rise apartments. In a small place, people only built up. Everyone is related. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Unless there is other entertainment, like the stranger who is visiting Abu Khalil’s daughter. Now that is a story everyone wanted in on. Every time I tried to get in and out of the Aunt’s house, a hundred people were eyeballing me from balconies rising above.
And then, there was the matter of those three huge ancient keys. They never worked. They were trick keys. They would have made a lock smith weep. You had to get to know their particular quirks if you wanted to get past all the doors. There was some variation that went with every key, something like this: “twist this one backward and pull on the door, Suddenly turn the key the other way and you will hear a click. Then push don’t pull on the door while you turn the handle.” I swear I felt like a spy memorizing a secret code. For whatever reason, I could never get the right variation on a theme, and I would be outside fumbling with the key, with a hundred people looking down on me from above. Once in the main gate, there was the outer door and the inner door, all with the same fun. I could not ask for help because my future father-in-law was already a bit tense about the arrangements. He was putting his reputation on the line. If this escapade did not end up at the alter, his daughter’s chaste reputation might be ruined by unsubstantiated gossip.
And so many years later, I think back at those three big clumsy keys and I laugh. They were life’s joke on me, playing out as theatre before the watching world. I was the guy who could never quite get it right. The keys were my enemy, barring me from getting to what I was after. Keys to life. Keys to the heart. Keys to the future, and to the unknown. Keys to luck and fortune, and keys to whatever meaning the future might unfold.
Love is tricky. You might say it is a trick-key that comes with its own individual quirks in order to open the door. Courtship is a dance of hope that is also part comedy. And so it must be that love should be a bit tricky and never too easy. It should provide for some free entertainment, and it should pull at the heart strings of those who hope.
It is also beautiful and it will make you laugh on into the future.