I spent the last two hours standing in the door frame of my apartment, watching my neighbor gain experience points as she tried to keep it calm, cool and collected after getting locked out of her apartment. Her two kids were inside.
Damn those dead bolt locks you can only open from the inside. Cursed! when they break and lock your children inside by themselves. Gosh darn the emergency maintenance who refused to show up because “a 13-year-old old should be able to figure out how to open it, Ma’am.” And what in the world is the nearest locksmith doing 45 minutes away?
I had just returned from my two-hour Sunday snow hike and was walking up the stairs to my apartment when I heard the sniffling one hears when another is about to cry in public. Immediately, my neighbor tried to pretend she wasn’t crying, and in all likelihood, in full panic mode. I ignored the fact that she was in distress to alleviate any embarrassment one tends to feel when another catches them crying in public. It’s a totally normal thing to do, so I countered with a totally normal neighborly response:
“Hey, what’s going on?”
She wiped her eyes and rubbed her nose with her shirt sleeve. “I just got locked out my apartment.”
“My kids are inside and they’re freaking out.”
I laughed out loud. “What?”
“Yeah, we have this old stupid third deadbolt that only locks from the inside. I don’t have a key for it or anything. But it broke and now we can’t open it.”
“How long have you been locked out?”
“Just a few minutes. I don’t know what to do.”
I could hear the kids, an older brother and a younger sister, talking to each other through the door. “Shut up, Bella, I’m trying to figure this out. Mom, I’m scared. What if we can’t get out?”
Bella was laughing. “When are we gonna call the fire department? Can they break down the door? We’re gonna be stuck here foreverrrrrr. Hey, neighbor! I see you!”
I smiled and waved and made a silly face up close to the peephole. Giggling ensued on the other side of the door.
“You guys are my rockstar neighbors. We’re gonna figure this out and get you out of here. Think of it as an unexpected adventure!” I told them. Bella was totally on board and started jabbering about everything her older brother was doing wrong. Meanwhile, he was being brave and taking the lock a part with the screwdriver.
I looked back at their mother. She was biting her nails and thinking of who she should call.
“Hey,” I said. “This is gonna be okay. The good news is it’s only just a door that’s between us. That’s all it is.”
The truth was, I was loving the simple thrill of having a problem to solve. The challenge of working with these two smart cookies and talking through the door on what they could see with the lock, and how we could offer suggestions on how to manipulate its gears. The two of them reminded me of my brother and I when we were little. I was always coming up with ideas and telling stories and jokes, while my brother was concerned with getting us out of whatever mess it was. It was all a game to me. It was life or death to him. This included myself being locked in a closet for a few hours, and another incident where the two of us and Grandma O got locked in the utility room without access to a phone for even more hours. I ended up escaping the closet the minute the police arrived at the doorstep, and my Dad rescued us from the utility room once he arrived home from a business trip. Both instances were a result of us playing football, dodgeball and hide-and-seek in the house, or some combination of the three.
Unfortunately, the lock was really old and despite any valiant effort from the brother to jimmy it open, it was the fire department in the end who kicked it down. And it actually took them quite a few tries. But neat to see that they really don’t mess around. They even brought an axe.
In the interim, since I really couldn’t offer much considering the constraints of the situation, I knew that I could at least offer my presence. So I kept the kids playful and my neighbor off the ledge. It’s amazing the things you can find to talk about when you all you can do is pass the time. A general rule of thumb, I’m learning, is to have fun. Suffering is optional.