My mother loses her car keys quite a lot. She always has. I have always known the scramble of her searching hands that upset purses, laundry, and piles of paper in frantic key-pursuit. Her desperate voice has punctuated my life with a recurrent background prayer: “Oh, God, please help me find my keys!”
For many years, she felt terribly guilty about her key-losing habit. When her keys inevitably disappeared, she rolled her eyes at herself, uttered the prayer, and began the scramble all over again. I understand the she pain she felt. I have plagued myself with some similar self-chastisements. I would so much rather have my priorities in line, my routine perfected, and my thoughts organized than have to ask for help.
But my mother is no longer the same woman who lost her keys when I was a child. She still loses them, but now she has grace for herself. These days when she loses her keys she tells people, “I used to feel guilty for losing my keys and then crying out to God to save me from my own foolishness. But now I realize He lets me lose keys because He likes hearing from me.”
Just last week she told me, “Why do we always think we have to do things without asking for help? It’s ridiculous.”
Why indeed? Why do we hate to ask for help?
The other day I sat at the gas station with my mother. While the man pumped my gas, my mother looked closely at my face. “Are you OK?” she asked. I was not OK. I was also not interested in admitting it. But soon I burst into tears. Which answered her question.
Since I couldn’t see enough through the tears to safely drive, we switched seats. Which meant I had to get out and walk around the car. I like to cry behind closed doors. I felt I was showing my tears and crumpled face to the whole town.
We stopped next at the grocery store. My mother put the car into park and fixed me with this command: “No crying without me.”
I still don’t know quite what made me cry, except the tornado of life changes that seemed at that moment to be sweeping me away.
When he heard things were going roughly, my fiancé offered to drive up from Virginia to New York visit me in the middle of his school week. The kindness dazzled me.
I said, “Should I feel guilty?” He was, after all, driving six hours just to be with me because I was sad. If I had my priorities right, my thoughts organized, my routine perfected, would I look like the burbling mess I was, churning with all sad parts of the world for no real reason? Should I feel guilty?
“Please don’t,” he said. Mercy says that kind of thing.
I tried to think of a way to repay his love, forgetting for the hundredth time that love does not demand repayment. Love will drive six hours. Love will go much farther.