This happened a month ago. Superbowl Sunday.
Upon ending a two mile hike, I went to open my car and realized I had lost my keys. My girlfriend and I had just covered a VERY large area of beautiful, snow covered land. The initial idea of finding them seemed insanely impossible, and I felt panic stir in my belly. I have faced what felt like impossible before, so I jumped into the search with a half slice of panic and a half slice of hope. As I often try to do with fear, I coached myself with this thought: "It's going to be okay. I began talking to myself, assuring myself that it would all work out. I also asked my deceased mother and father for help. Crazy? I figured it couldn't hurt. As I stared at an endless field of thick, deep white challenge, and considered the mile hike extending from that field...talking with my Mom and Dad brought me the most comfort. As my girlfriend went to cover the 2 miles we hiked, I shoveled through the field of snow our dogs had tore into just an hour ago.
Shoveling and feeling more and more desperate, I asked myself "what am I supposed to learn from this?" My mother always taught me to look for the lesson in all my challenges. While I tried to answer that, I observed a couple approaching with a dog. Panic went on pause, and dog mama turned on. A very large, excited dog approached. It eagerly wanted to play with my dogs. So I wrapped the leashes tight and held on. Unfortunately, the slippery snow beneath my feet was on the dogs' side. The next fifteen seconds were film-esque. I was instantly on the ground, being dragged across the snow, hearing a couple shriek and shout, "Oh my God! Are you okay? Will they hurt our dog?"
"I'm okay! These girls are lovable!" I yelled or screamed, as my body slid like a sled horizontally across the field. I was not okay. But I did not want to explain why to these strangers. "Seriously, I'm fine. I'm just trying to understand the universe is all. My dogs just want to play and I just want to find my keys. No, I don't wanna karatekid kick the world right now." As tears streamed down my face from pain and embarrassment, I questioned the universe's sense of humor. And I may have questioned my purpose in life.
I was ready to give up and call for real help. Not the help of my deceased parents. I reached for my phone. The phone that had been in my pocket just seconds ago.
My phone was gone.
I did the "check every pocket" dance for the couple who nervously walked away from me. (They were clinging like experts to their dog. They were mastering walking without a single tumble.) Then I crumbled to the ground.
In the dog-led-snow-drag, my phone had ironically fell out? Purposefully fell out? Comically? Insanely?
For whatever reason, it fell OUT of my pocket.
Keyless and phoneless, in a field of snow, covered in snow, crying tears on top of snow, I stopped thinking about the lesson I was supposed to learn. I mean, other than keeping my pockets zipped, what the hell was I supposed to learn from this?
I knew I would survive. I would be fine. In fact, I was still here after losing the two people my heart has known and loved the longest. What's the point of freaking out about losing keys and a phone? Money can replace them, because they are just things. No amount of money can bring back my mother or father.
And that hit me. I don't know what that was, but something hit me hard. Suddenly I was more eager to find what had been lost. But I was no longer looking for my keys or a phone. I was looking for something more. Trust? Faith? Grace? Answers? Was I looking to find that my parents, six feet under, are still with me. It now seemed more important to me to know that my conversation with them was not a one-way street. That somehow, in some way, what I lost wasn't really gone...that what we lose is somehow never really gone. I wanted to find my keys not because I needed to get into my car, but because I needed to know my parents are with me, because I needed to know that my gut was not leading me in the wrong direction.
So once again, I asked my mother and father for help. And I asked the Universe. And God. And Saint Christopher (who I later found out was the patron Saint of Travelers, not the one who helps find things.) And tho I was panicked and found myself praying to everyone and everything, I felt a KNOWING surface within me. I KNEW I was gonna find BOTH my keys and my phone. I KNEW without a doubt they had to be somewhere in that field, not in the mile walk. I can't describe exactly how or why I KNEW, I just did. I had zero clue of where my keys had fallen out, yet I KNEW they would be found in that field. My gut KNEW.
And my gut has KNOWN a few things.
(Like I had KNOWN to ask for a miracle when doctors found two brain aneurysms three years ago. I assure you, I am not someone who has ever asked for a miracle. Nor am I someone who goes to church on Sundays, prays on a daily basis, or has a clear understanding what faith or God is. I believe...I just don't know what exactly I believe. So asking for a miracle was simply something I KNEW I had to do, but had no rational explanation to offer on why. The same KNOWING experience occurred when I KNEW who my kidney donor was going to be, a year before my surgery, in light of never asking her or understanding how she could be. Let me reiterate: I don't understand this KNOWING, but I do understand that I am responsible to pay attention to it. So instead of giving up, which most sane people would probably have done, I accepted that I would find both my keys and my phone. Because my gut KNEW it. I've asked myself, "what if you didn't find them, what would you say about this KNOWING then?" I don't have an answer to that. Honestly, this sense of KNOWING has yet to prove me wrong. I don't claim to understand it. And I feel pretty vulnerable sharing about it.)
My gut KNEW and I was without fear.
I made the dogs sit (a command they excel at without other dogs around) and I got on my hands and knees. I dug into the fifteen feet of snow sculpted by my dragged body. I didn't think about how deep the snow was or how huge the field was. I thought about how my mom and dad were there with me, and how I knew I was going to find what I was looking for. If you saw the size of this field/ if you saw me on my hands and knees digging in the snow/ if you saw my body being dragged across this field by two dogs, you would have laughed. I laugh thinking about it. A part of me felt like I should have still been panicking. But the bigger part of me, the part that KNEW (my gut) bitch-slapped that panic into silence. Within seconds my eyes spotted something peeking out of the snow.
My phone! (It didn't look like my phone.)
Had the dogs had actually dragged me through a path that exposed a little piece of metal?
I screamed. "My keys!"
I felt my inner Julie Andrews burst from within. Suddenly "My Favorite Things" included a verse "finding my keys under three feet of snow."
A moment later I was back on the ground shoveling my gloves into the snow, knowing my phone was there somewhere. It took less than two minutes to find my phone after finding my keys. It wasn't just laying on top of the snow, tho. It too had been buried (it had a nice rice bath when it got home) deep in the snow, with just a corner peeking out. The same eyes that often can't find the butter glaring at them in the fridge, saw a silver corner of iPhone.
I grabbed it and wiped all the snow off. I blew hard, like any proud iPhone owner blows, into the exposed, vulnerable openings of a wet iPhone. (get your head out of the gutter.)
I found my keys and my iPhone.
That's all I needed, right?
Maybe at that moment. But I'm writing this because it was not all I needed. A month later, after writing this two or three times, I finally think I know what the lesson was. (Yes, Mom. I guess I have always been a slow learner.)
Let me share that at first, I thought losing/finding my keys was about needing to know my parents are with me. That somehow losing and finding these objects was directly related to realizing, embracing that my parents are indeed present and somehow guiding me (only those who have lost someone dear can understand this fuzzy logic.) I believe that was indeed part of it.
But this morning, a whole month later, I can't help but think it's about more. What this entire experience shouted to me over a cup of coffee was this:
"Listen to your gut."
And that sounds super simple. But we all know how not simple listening to our gut can be. And we all come up with a thousand reasons why we don't do something our gut tells us we have to do. And the root of those thousand reasons is always fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of hurt, fear of failure, fear of rejection....
Fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear.
I trust my parents are somehow with me. How or why? I can't explain that. But I think that finding my keys and phone was less about trust in my parents' presence, and more about trust in myself.
Trusting myself, trusting my heart, trusting my gut.
My parents believed in me, believed in my goodness, believed in seeking the best within themselves and others. In their absences, especially that of my mother, I have struggled a great deal with listening to my gut. I have questioned everything my gut has been shouting to me. But if there is anything my mother would feel disappointed in, it would be the silencing of my voice, of my heart, of my gut.
I'm happy I found my keys and phone. I really am. But tears are soaking my face right now because I can hear my gut. And I'm listening.