A few days ago, I thought I’d lost my car keys.
I was standing in the parking lot of the nail salon where I’d just gotten a pedicure, feeling the rise of panic with every futile rustle through my pocketbook. This wasn’t really my car, after all. It was a rental, and I was on vacation in West Palm Beach, Fla., with my mom, where we knew no one and our only access to the rental agency was a national 800 customer-service number.
I remembered slipping the key into a front pocket of my bag the moment I’d locked the car. But as I retraced my steps to the salon, I began to doubt myself. Maybe I’d had it in my hand all along and set it down on the arm rest of the massage chair. Maybe it had fallen into its leather folds or onto the floor … As I blundered through the salon door, flustered and anxious, the manicurist who’d done my nails approached with curiosity.
“I think I left my keys here,” I said.
She immediately began to shake her head as she looked around, no doubt having already assessed every station where I’d sat in an effort to tidy up. Another technician rushed to her side, concern on his face.
Together we scanned the floor. She lifted the arm of the pedicure spa chair, pressed her fingers into each crease. His eyes swept the counter, the nail dryer table.
I dug into my pocketbook once again, while they tried to assure me in a soft fever of Korean and choppy English that the key had to be in my possession. And sure enough, at the bottom of the very pocket I’d already searched three times, my fingers wrapped around the small, black key fob.
I pulled it out with a flourish, and we all laughed. They beamed, as I said my goodbyes, thanking them for their kindness in indulging my paranoia. And as they invited me to return, I felt a pat on my back. It was the male technician, a jovial grin on his face, as he nodded his head with a series of “thank you, ok, thank you…”
And then, “I love you.”
I barely paused, merely smiled at the joy on his face, the easy warmth in his voice.
Then I met his eyes with one last “Thank you so much” and walked out the door.
While some might have been nonplussed at his unexpected declaration, I pocketed it as a gift. Spooned it into the absence of a loved one who’d died six years ago that very day. I had been looking for signs all week — a song, an image, a moment that would connect us, breathe his presence into the space between worlds.
And while that “I love you” may have been an incidental string in a genial flood of words, an offering as casual as any farewell he could give, I held it close.
Sometimes we see meaning and messages where we want to. And just as often, what we dismiss as impossible is the very thing intended for our hearts. Either way, I have learned that what matters is to be open … to the arrival of grace, the channeling of wisdom, to every rogue incandescence.
Many years ago, I’d stopped at a gas station to fill up on my way to work. Although I didn’t always take that particular route in the morning, whenever I did, I made a point of pulling into the service station, just off the highway, with its spartan, timeworn office adjoining a non-functioning garage. I liked that they pumped your gas.
On that morning, an amiable enough attendant greeted me and then ducked back into the office after inserting the nozzle in my tank, only to disappear. I heard the click of the shut-off valve and wondered if he’d become so distracted with whatever task had called him inside that he’d forgotten about me. Or perhaps his shift had ended.
As another employee emerged, he made his way toward my car but offered only a quick “hello,” rounding the island to service a driver who had just pulled up. He then proceeded to take care of every customer who drove into the lot for the next several minutes, pumping their gas, slipping their receipts through half-lowered windows, while I sat, stewing in impatience and growing affront.
I had already been preoccupied and unsettled on my drive in, having missed an appointment that morning and feeling the weight of changes on the horizon at work. And this seemingly deliberate inattention only chafed my agitation. I was debating exiting the car to replace the nozzle myself when the attendant finally walked over to my car. But as luck would have it, I’d chosen the fuel dispenser with a broken printer and he headed inside to retrieve my receipt.
I was exasperated and huffy when he returned — and utterly unprepared for the words I swore I heard him say.
“I love you.”
I turned my gaze to the passenger side of the car, as if that improbable murmur had been directed at a figure who’d emerged there. But there was no one, and as I swung my eyes back to his face, my own must have been a splay of puzzled disbelief.
He leaned into my window, his features placid, holding my dubious stare.
“I want you to know I love you,” he said.
There was something about his directness, his eyes fastened on mine with simple candor that dismissed any thoughts of impropriety or smarm. I knew there was nothing else he wished to say. And though I was still somewhat bewildered, I smiled and offered a quiet “thank you,” which seemed to be all the response he needed.
As I drove away, I felt a shift, a slow, susurrant release. The morning’s irritations and worries dissolved. Tears filled my eyes. The day opened itself to a balm of glistening truth:
I am loved. All is well. All shall ever be well.