“Just lift it,” Ralph said. “Easy…just a little…now over.”
I did just as he said, but the mangled piece of metal refused to catch. I grunted. This was not going well.
“Sorry,” I told Cindy.
“You don’t have to apologize,” she said. “This is all my fault, anyway. I’m such a ditz.”
“Oh, geez,” Mary said from behind us. “Don’t say that. I did this once when my kids were just babies. And they were in the car.”
Ralph and I looked back at Mary. She shrugged and said, “It happens.”
Ralph agreed, saying that he’d done the same thing with his tractor once. But that was in the middle of his two hundred acres and not the parking lot of the grocery store. Which made it worse, he said. “That was a long walk. Both ways.”
They were right, of course. At some point everyone locked their keys in the car. It was a rite of passage, whether from childhood to adulthood or adulthood to senility.
It was the noise that had attracted me. Frustration marked by the repetitive thumping of a door handle that would not budge. Ralph was already there, a fellow passerby on his way into the store for bread and a carton of Red Man. His hands were tucked inside his overalls and his cowboy hat was cocked against the setting sun. Hey surveyed the situation with all the patience a farmer must have.
Mary, too, was already there. Her and Cindy had unknowingly parked beside one another. They were strangers going in but now acquaintances in the parking lot.
Thumpthumpthump as Cindy tried again.
“Don’t think that’s a’gonna work, ma’am,” Ralph advised as I neared them.
“Excuse me,” Mary called out, “you wouldn’t happen to have a coat hanger?”
I answered that I did not and walked over to them. All three caught me up to speed in a short amount of time, the gist being that Cindy had to get home, couldn’t, and had no one to call.
“Maybe they’ll have one inside,” Mary offered. “I’ll go check.”
She returned a few moments later hefting a wire coat hanger into the air like the spoils of war. It was a turning point, or so we thought. But I’d never actually attempted the semi-felonious act and had no idea what to do. Ralph did, but lacked the dexterity to hook the lock just right. The combination of our skills resulted in two small scratches (one on me, the other on Cindy’s car) and no entry.
“Such a ditz,” Cindy said again, though I thought that comment may have been given in my direction.
“No more’n the rest of us, ma’am,” answered Ralph.
“Maybe you should call a locksmith,” Mary offered. “Doesn’t look like we’re making too much headway here.”
Neither Ralph nor I took exception to that, even though in the handbook of manhood calling a locksmith was tantamount to stopping to ask for directions. But the evening was wearing on and we all had places to go.
“Maybe so,” Cindy said.
Ralph nodded. I shrugged.
Mary went back inside to fetch a phonebook and returned victorious yet again with news that someone was on the way.
“Thank you all so much,” Cindy said. “Really. I was afraid I’d be standing here trying to figure out what to do all by myself.”
It wasn’t the words as much as the feeling behind them that gave me pause. This was no mere thanks, no empty platitude of appreciation. Cindy meant what she said. Meant it to her very core.
The fact that none of us had really done anything of merit to help the situation didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that she hadn’t been alone to face it. In fact, at that moment, standing there and hearing those words echo through me, I honestly believed the company of three strangers was worth the whole embarrassing ordeal. It taught her something.
It taught me something, too.
Because the word “community” always conjured in my head towns or neighborhoods or churches. Things set in place, hardened and tethered by geography.
But that wasn’t true, was it? Not there in the parking lot of the grocery store with four strangers. With us, community became something spontaneous created out of need. It moved fluid, tethered not to a place but to wherever we happened to be.
And I thought then that was God’s definition of community, where there were no boundaries to separate us and where strangers were really friends we have yet to meet.
To read more posts on the topic of Community, visit the blog carnival hosted by Bridget Chumbley at One Word at a Time.