Finding Yourself Locked Out

For the first time, I locked us out of the house. It was Sunday evening and we were taking the kids to see a movie. I was the last one to step outside. I pulled the door closed behind me and immediately recognized what I had done. The wife had not brought her keys and we had no spare hidden away. My daughter insisted on checking everyone’s pockets for herself but it was no good. Home was inaccessible, nor could we get into the car. It was dark and getting cold, but we had our coats. At least it wasn’t raining. At least I had my phone and was able to call the emergency locksmith. Forty minutes and $140 later, we were back inside, and we made a later showing of the movie. All told, it was a very minor inconvenience, but it startled me: my inability to shelter my family or myself, the insecurity of our security, the ease with which we were exposed.

My daughter – the pocket checker – has recently discovered new anxieties. Mostly they turn on the question of her health. She suddenly feels funny. Is her heart beating too quickly? Is her breathing okay? Will she choke on her dinner? These fears, I’m sure, have something to do with her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis and the last two-and-a-half years of worry and chemotherapy and frank conversations between Mama and Papa in the kitchen. Her uncle also had a heart attack, and Papa himself talks a lot about trying to avoid one. A few days ago, putting my daughter to bed, she asked for assurance that she would wake up in the morning. She worried that by letting go of herself in sleep she might slip accidentally into death. Sweetheart, I told her, have you ever died in your sleep before? No? Don’t worry, then. You won’t lock yourself out of tomorrow morning by stepping into the dark tonight.

If man is born in freedom, with infinite possible futures open to him, the fact of living at all will require that he is locked out, finally, from nearly all of them. Sometimes further accommodation is simply not possible. We age and grow and so lock ourselves out of the womb, out of childhood, out of our parents’ home, out of youth. We make friends and pursue lovers and so exclude ourselves from other friends and other lovers. We make any number of choices, but eventually there comes a final door for each of us. We will step through it and it will close and we will find that we have left the key inside. Eventually, then, we do step into a night (cold and black, or warm and bright with stars – who can say?) which locks us out of tomorrow morning. Dithering in the hall, however, you find that straining to hold open multiple doors at once will get you – precisely – nowhere. Like death, life only happens when you lock yourself out.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Finding Yourself Locked Out

  1. I feel for your daughter, and for you trying to help her grow into and around her new understandings. We can all say it together: timor mortis conturbat me.

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