It was almost Christmas, and I was excitedly preparing for the arrival of my daughter Alisa and her family. I made up the beds, carefully spreading my rarely used quilts over them. Discovering that I needed two more quilts, I turned again to the chest where I stored them. But I couldn’t open it! Somehow it had locked itself, and I had no key.
This old chest had belonged to my mother, and I vaguely remembered that she kept a key taped to the inside of the chest. That certainly didn’t help me now! Frustrated and helpless, I decided to address the key problem after the holiday season when it was time to return the blankets and quilts to the chest. I had no idea what I’d do then. (Would I need a locksmith?)
How eagerly we welcomed our family from afar, and how gladly we shared news of our lives with them! We laughed as I told my locked chest story, and then I suggested others might help out by tackling my problem.
My son-in-law Sam took up the challenge. He began by studying the chest. He took pictures, and he did research on the Internet. He turned the chest upside down and found its model and serial number. I learned I had a Lane cedar chest built in 1941. Then Sam found an Illinois locksmith whose specialty was making new keys for old furniture. Could this person make a key to match this specific chest?
One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was the tiny box that contained a new key for the old cedar chest. And, yes, the key opened my old chest — the chest that still had its original key taped to the inside lid! I was very grateful.
What impressed me most about this experience was how Sam paid attention to the chest. My approach had been to poke energetically around in the keyhole with a bent paper clip to force it open. He got acquainted with it, learned its name, and where it was made. I had used my antique chest for many years, but I had never gotten to know it.
Later, I reflected how often we humans take my approach in dealing with our fellow human beings. We talk at them and we use them, but we don’t truly give them our attention. We don’t get to know and appreciate them. And so we remain locked mysteries to each other, never revealing the treasures that are hidden inside each of us.
Unlike my old locked chest, we humans have that within us that wants to be known. We all hold such amazing stories. There are hardships we’ve faced, joys we’ve known, strange adventures we’ve had, and faithful years of work. Caught between our desire to be known and our fear of being known, we peek out wistfully, wondering if anyone cares to listen to our story.
When it feels safe to open ourselves, to share our stories, we will flourish and bloom. As columnist David Brooks recently wrote, “Above almost any other need, human beings long to have another person look into their faces with love and acceptance.” To give the “gift of attention,” as Brooks calls it, means listening with open hearts. It means having a genuine interest in understanding another person. It means receiving another human story, and accepting that it can be as complicated as our own story.
I think I’ve just discovered my 2024 New Year’s Resolution. I resolve to become someone who listens, someone who gives the gift of attention to those I meet. My hope is that I will approach others with an open heart, believing each person holds a unique treasure. My desire is to make it safe for others to open up and share their treasure.
Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So . . . be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. And may the blessing of God, who made us, who loves us, and who travels with us be with you now and forever. (Henri-Frederic Amiel, 1821-1881)
If this story speaks to you, please share it with another.