April 17, 2020

Sight Unseen / Brandon A. Evans

On the path of the golden keys

Brandon A. EvansMy grandfather once said something that changed my life.

He wasn’t even talking to me, and I didn’t appreciate its real importance until many years later. Yet, of all the things he said, of all the things he was, that one moment bridged a gap between our lives and unlocked a door I didn’t know was there.

It was back in the early ’90s. My brother and I often spent a few weeks each summer with my grandparents, back when they still worked. Wilfred Schuetzenhofer was the son of Austrian immigrants, providing for his family as a supervisor at a plant that manufactured power transformers outside of St. Louis.

To me, he was larger than life: a hard worker, a good cook, stern when he had to be, unbelievably skilled with tools, jovial and, most of all, kind.

In looking up to him, I also knew that I could never reach the standard he set, and always considered myself made of lesser stuff than him.

Except for one night, when he said something so simple and so plain and so natural that it became as though an inheritance passed on to me; a word from the man I admired most besides my own father; a word to forever call me to remember my place.

We each have such stories, such moments: things that change us. Maybe it was the sight of something beautiful, or a sharp word of correction, or a dream, or even the grand, sweeping note of a piece of music that makes our eyes suddenly see beyond their dull horizon.

Nevertheless, such moments set us on a path. They are touchstones that define us, ultimately.

A golden keyAnd so I would venture that there are in each of our lives things that can be best described as golden keys. These golden keys are more than just insights, they are proofs of the existence of God—things our hearts sense are beyond coincidence. They are a unique way that God shows us his presence: not in history, nor in the wonder of creation, nor in a book or a teaching or an argument, but written on the tapestry of our own life.

This miracle is only possible because the locks that the golden keys turn have been forged by a hundred different events that only we know; like living tissue, the sinews have twisted together until our souls, silently preparing for their fulfillment, have crafted an absence that only a certain moment can fill.

For me, that absence can be described as timidity. It can be expressed in virtue: kindness, an easy-going nature, obedience to just authority; but it is more often expressed in vice: a lack of direction, an unwillingness to lead, and worst of all, cowardice.

It was timidity I showed that night in front of my grandpa. One of his friends from the plant was over, and I was trying to convince him that, according to Albert Einstein, time slowed down the faster an object moved.

His friend wasn’t having any of that nonsense from someone who was barely a teenager, and after going back and forth a couple of times with me, he said that I had no idea what I was talking about.

Even though I knew I was right, I immediately backed down. I felt ashamed for bringing up something so academic and ethereal, and thought for sure I’d embarrassed my grandfather.

But as I hung my head, and looked away, something happened.

My grandfather, sitting in the recliner that welcomed him after each day’s labor, turned his head quickly.

“Don’t talk to him like that,” he barked, rather seriously. “He’s the smartest kid I know, and if he says it’s true, then it is.”

Those words stayed with me, even when I forgot them.

As my life went on, they proved that there was created, by the very weakness I hated, a pathway to overcoming it, made with each step I took along the way.

For those rusted gears of timidity which lay silent in me one day sprang to life. They turned suddenly and all together, urged on by that golden key from my grandfather which entered my life from the edge of memory, piercing through defense, navigating depths and, at a place only one thing can reach, turned the tumblers of a lock beyond my waking knowledge.

I found a new measure of confidence, and surety: strength when I needed it.

That golden key was something only I could see and notice and appreciate. Like a hidden glyph decipherable in just one language, it was a thing custom-made to fit within my life.

When a golden key comes to us there is a point, present or future, that we know it instantly. Our eyes light up. An epiphany jumps through our soul. The keys work backward through time—and forward—to make sense of the senseless and redeem what we thought was lost.

A young man, unconfident in himself but excited by knowledge, finds just enough self-assurance to keep going. The moment snowballs—a life is formed.

And, as times require, when he doubts himself, that hidden lock turns once more and he finds conviction blooming in the midst of adversity, delivered by a voice from another age who sets him firmly on the path of the golden keys.

(Sight Unseen is an occasional column that explores God and the world. Brandon A. Evans is the online editor and graphic designer of The Criterion and a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.)

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