Friday, November 03, 2006

Having Keys Means You Belong

This is an story I have been working on since the day I left for Egypt. It started when I literally pulled out of my driveway on the way to mission orientation. Just before I got in the car I handed my keys to my father. Keys to the house, keys to my car, keys to my church and all kinds of random keys that I have long since forgotten what they open.

As the car rolled down the street, away from my home, I felt a profound sense of disconnect. It was one of those moments where the staggering realization that I was leaving the country for a whole year hit me in square between the eyes. I wasn't just giving up my keys, I was giving up little symbols of everything I was connected to, signs that someone trusted me, indications that I belonged.

The long flight to Egypt was surreal and gave me this indistinct "fuzzy" feeling, the anticipation of things to come. I was in between two lives. I left one behind that I no longer belonged to and was going to one that I didn't yet belong in.

When I got off the plane and arrived at Dawson Hall, my home for the next year, the process of belonging began again. I was given keys to my flat. I belonged at Dawson Hall.

After I completed my Arabic language classes, I was given another key: the key to my office where I would design publications and archive old volumes of handwritten text. I was entrusted with the computers and property in that room. I belonged at The Synod of the Nile.

Over the year I was trusted time and again with keys and belonged at many places, whether it was an office, a person's home or a hotel.

Fast-forward nearly a year. It was time again to relinquish these little symbols of trust and belonging. I said my farewells to my friends at the Synod of the Nile and handed over the keys to my office. I packed all of my things into two large suitcases and surrendered the keys to my flat. And once again I didn't belong. I didn't belong anywhere. I was in between lives once again. It was just temporary for me though.

What about those people who aren't just in between lives? You know, those folks that never have keys? The poor and homeless. Since they don't have keys society believes they don't belong anywhere... permanently. Nobody trusts them. In society's eyes... they... don't... belong.

There is one person in my life that I argue with quite a bit about the homeless. "Why don't they get jobs? They just stand around outside the homeless shelter all day and wait for handouts. They're lazy!" this person says.

What I have come to realize though is that nobody trusts them. If you were a business owner, would you hire a homeless person who didn't have transportation? Probably not. If you were a leasing agent for an apartment complex, would you rent to a jobless person? Probably not. They can't get a job because they are homeless and can't get a home because they are jobless. So you can see how homeless people are already at a disadvantage by simply not having keys.

Take your keys out and put them on the desk in front of you. Go on... do it. Good. Now look hard at your keys. Those keys to your home or apartment mean that somebody trusts you enough to pay rent or a mortgage. Those keys to your car means somebody trusts you to pay the financing or on a lease. Simply having those keys proves that you belong in this society. They are also a symbol of opportunity that not everyone has.

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