A Broken Key

June 2, 2010

Alan is the locksmith where I work. He is past retirement age and, selfishly, I don’t want him to retire as long as I am here. We’re friends, Alan and I, and I love seeing his smiling face approach when we happen to meet.

Sometimes we meet by accident, out-of-doors, and he tells me about things he’s doing and thinking, and I grumble a little about my day, and we note the weather. Sometimes we meet at my request, when there’s trouble with the toggle buttons on a coded door, or when I need keys made, or when I lock myself out of my office.

Often, when he comes to my office, he’ll mention the locksmith’s work in the dorms, or in other offices on campus, and I’ll be reminded that the lens through which he views things is a very particular one. He sees things I don’t.

One day Alan asked me, “Do you know that women break more keys than men do?” I didn’t. “Do you know why?” I didn’t. “Because men tend to know just how much they can push before the key breaks, but women doubt their own strength and turn too hard. They’re often not sure what they are capable of.” 

A nice thing… It’s pretty cool how a different lens can alter the way we understand ourselves.

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5 Responses to “A Broken Key”

  1. Alan DuFresne said

    Your blogs are a nice thing. Especially this one.

  2. there is beauty in mastering a craft with art and nuance…it helps to be nice too.

  3. What an interesting note! You’d think women would be more delicate and deliberate.

    Nice post. Speaking of not knowing your own strength….

  4. I enjoyed reading your blog post about Alan, not only for its intrinsic interest, but because long ago (in a very different context) I had the good fortune to get to know the very same Alan.

    For several years in the late ’70s, in a suburb of Chicago, I taught conversational Spanish to adults in an evening program run by a local school district. My day job was teaching Spanish to undergraduates at Northwestern University, so it was a pleasant change to teach people who were there because they genuinely wanted to learn Spanish, not just to tick off another graduation requirement.

    Of the dozens of adults who passed through my night classes, I remember by name and face only a handful. One of them was the same Alan about whom you’ve written this lovely post. I can testify that he was the same thirty-plus years ago: always smiling, happy to be doing what he was doing (learning Spanish), perceptive about the world around him, tuned in to the thoughts and feelings of others, and in general just a really nice guy.

    I lost contact with Alan around 1980… until last year, when I published my first novel. Then, out of the blue, who should send me an email note of congratulations but Alan, whom I still remembered after all that time. Somehow, he had found my website, seen what I was up to these days, and sent me that welcome note. Since then, we’ve exchanged emails and caught up with our doings over the last thirty years.

    I’m not surprised to know that he’s still the same friendly, thoughtful, perceptive, and nice guy that I remember. And now, thanks to him and you, I know to take it a bit easier with those keys in my pocket!

  5. mattpaw said

    Was gonna try to come with something perfect, but it was already posted, by Frank.

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