Confessio #5

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One of my confessions is that…I am a key-dropper. And, you might be one, too? There are millions of key-droppers, all dropping keys! So, what is a key-dropper?

How about this:

Samuel was twenty-seven years old. An intelligent man, who had lost his way in life. He had left school at sixteen and gone to college, but spent the intervening years getting into trouble with the Police, and that was why he had been referred to me. He had a police record as long as your arm. Petty crimes, true, but eighteen of them – and as successive crimes had been committed before earlier crimes had been ‘spent’ or erased from his record, all those crimes remained current and on his record for another three years, and would need to be declared to any prospective employer.

To date, Samuel said he hadn’t done anything constructive in moving his adult life forward. And so, he sat in front of me – it was our first meeting – in despair. In short, we looked at aims, goals, looked at what he really wanted to do, how to get there, and we even looked at funding issues. With lots of encouragement and positivity, and realism, a plan of action was drawn up.

Turn your scars into stars.

For what he wanted to do – workwise – a university course was needed, and so I set about suggesting some good, local universities and provided him with their addresses and brief information. I also set some ‘homework’ which was for him to research more deeply those universities, and report back in three weeks time at our next meeting. He would then share his findings, and then decide what university would be best for him. He cheerfully accepted that, and seemed to walk out of the office much taller than when he had entered it an hour earlier. The outlook looked good.

Three weeks passed. Samuel sat in front of me, again, and we spoke. He eagerly spread a number of university prospectuses on the table, with one deliberately uppermost. Samuel was exuberant. He explained that he had sent off for and looked at several prospectuses, and decided which one would most benefit him. Infact, he had already had a university interview. The university had, indeed accepted him on a three year course, preceded with a ‘year zero’ course so that he would be ‘acclimatised’ to the academic life having done little in the intervening years (and I think, maybe to test his resolve), and had even talked to him about funding. ‘All ‘doable’’, he said.

Samuel quite rightly patted himself on the back. We scheduled some ‘encouraging’, longer-term meetings over the next year – just to keep in touch and build upon that good work, but his last question at that meeting was interesting. As he left the office, he asked me, ‘What role did you play in all this, Tadhg? I did it all by myself!”.

That’s the role of a key-dropper!

Ofcourse, I could have reminded Samuel that he had been ‘drifting’ (his words) for over eight years before that one meeting with me, and perhaps my role was to give him that much-needed information and encouragement of what could be. But I didn’t reply, but just shook his hand and encouraged him to come to our next meeting in a couple of months.

After all, I am a key-dropper.

A definition: A key-dropper, then, is someone who ‘releases’ someone from their (usually) self-imposed restrictions. It may not mean doing the work for them. Indeed, usually for them to succeed they need to work through it by themselves, but with encouragement. A key-dropper is someone who creates ‘space’ for someone to envision their future, gives them information and encouragement, and stays with that person through the good times and the not-so-good times ahead. I believe the work of the key-dropper is a ministry, a calling, a noble work, and one that is both rewarding and yet demanding.

Are you a key-dropper?

Hafiz, a Persian mystical poet, born some seven hundred years ago, and one of my favourites, wrote:

“The small man builds cages for everyone he knows.

While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful, rowdy prisoners”.

What are the rewards of a key-dropper?

The rewards are awesome. I am thankful to have been part of the life-journey of people who have gone from ‘zero to hero’; of young men who wanted to provide for a forthcoming birth and support their girlfriends, and did so by obtaining employment; of a young women who thought her education was ‘blocked’ by a ‘police caution’ but found the ‘door’ was infact open to her and she seized that opportunity; and joyful that I encouraged an eighty-year old lady (who had relied on her similarly-aged friends to read letters to her, as she was illiterate, but now found that many of her supportive friends had ‘passed on) to join an adult literacy course. She started on a literacy 101 course, and I sat with her through enrolment and the first class – which was just as well, as registration at the front desk (even for this course) meant reading forms and filling in application forms!). She flourished! And those are just a few accounts. The rewards are, indeed awesome, and heart-warming as at the end of each day I went home feeling that something good had gone out!

You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

What are the disbenefits?

Sadly, there are a few disbenefits. A key-dropper is an encourager, and some people flatly refused to rise to any challenge – through fear of failure, or perhaps even fear of success, or perhaps a failure of their ‘vision’ to ignite etc – but they remained in their rut, and that was frustrating. Many times I wanted to do more for them, but I knew that they had to show a positive response for it to work, and my role was to encourage (only). Key-droppers drop keys, but the recipient must unlock the door and walk through it.

You can take a horse to water, the saying says, but you can’t make it drink!

Sometimes, I felt a person could do better than, say, the janitorial work that they had settled for. But, janitorial work is a good, honest work and provided an income for that person and their family, and it would be wrong for me to put my ‘views’ of work and progression on to another person. Wrong, and probably arrogant. They were doing well! And so  I had to ‘pinch’ myself not to interfere. Something altogether too easy to do.

And then, there’s my ego. If I am honest, it sometimes hurt when someone would seize the opportunity and turn their life around, but walk away without saying ‘thankyou’.

And maybe, I’m revealing too much, and I hope you’ll not ‘unfriend me’, but on a few instances I felt rather envious of the opportunities some had had, and took, but I felt that I hadn’t had that opportunity. But, two things quickly sprang to mind in such circumstances: Firstly, if I really wanted that opportunity, I could go after it (and should take my own advice), and so I took some comfort there (knowing it as my ego talking); and secondly, it was the role of a key-dropper (and a mark of their success) to ‘propel’ people further, higher, and I took some comfort there.

That, after all, is the role of a key-dropper, and I consider myself blessed to be part of that work.

Are you a key-dropper?

It could be that your main ‘calling’ in life is to be a key-dropper, in which case you too, are blessed. I really do believe that the good we give out, comes back.

A blessing is the visible, perceptible, effective proximity of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It could be that your role in life isn’t that of a key-dropper – but some other work (after all, all work is noble), but in your work and other circumstances you will, occasionally, nevertheless find yourself in the role of a key-dropper, albeit temporarily. I would encourage you to seize that opportunity at that time, maybe for just one person, to drop the key so they can pick it up and open the door, to encourage them, even if it’s a kindly word; but in that respect you too, for a time, are a key-dropper, and you will be blessed.

Having confessed, I feel better already.



PS: Samuel and the account mentioned above about is a slightly fictionalised name and event to safeguard anonymity, but based on a very real-life circumstance, and from a time when I was working for a not-for-profit organisation in London which sought to turn the lives of (ex-)offenders, (ex-)alcoholics and the unemployed around.

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