Hanging from a hook near my back door is an unremarkable house key given to me by my parents. Silver in color and attached to a fluorescent green keychain, this barely-used key has a few scratches on one side of the blade from where it has rubbed against the lock during its brief existence. It is not yet a year old, though what it signifies spans decades.
I remember the first key my parents gave me. It was also a house key, standard silver, with the bow of the key emblazoned with a plastic magenta covering. (My twin’s had blue.) I immediately knew the significance upon receiving this offering; it meant that my parents thought I was old enough to be home alone, to come and go as I pleased (with appropriate parental notification, of course), and I was ecstatic by this grown-up honor. I actually don’t recall needing to use the key much, but its importance was not in its physical nature, but in its symbolic one.
Even before bestowing this piece of metal upon me, my parents began providing me with many keys to help me in life: a good education and love for learning, moral and ethical training to be able to interact well with those around me, trips to visit family to stay connected to my past, trips to national parks to explore the vast beauty and variety of God’s creation, and many others.
Their keys unlocked doors to experiences that I would never have searched for on my own. From the larger doors of seeing the Grand Canyon or visiting the town in Germany where my grandfather was born to the seemingly smaller doors of learning how to forgive my sister when she hurt me with her words or the appropriate way to behave while at a friend’s house (e.g., don’t ask to go swimming or presume you can unless first invited).
Their guidance allowed me to create my own keys to doors waiting for me to unlock. Like agreeing to go whitewater rafting, where I fell out of the boat and had to swim through class-four rapids. Or waking up in the middle of the night to see a meteor shower on the beach with friends. Or going to seminary two-thirds of the way across country to try something new. Or learning how to still love and care for my husband even when I may not have particularly liked him at that moment.
This latest key from my parents unlocks the door to their new retirement home. Always generous with everything they have, they provided a key to all of their daughters so that we felt welcomed to visit whenever we wanted to. At a five-hour drive from my home, I do not get the chance to take them up on this offer as much as I want (and I’m the closest to it). But its importance to me is more than if this one and a half inch metallic tool can get me into their home.
To me, it is another reminder of all that they’ve given to me. I see the connection to family that endures even through geographic separation. I see the knowledge, care, and love that they’ve given me over the years. And I see the legacy they’ve imparted to me to provide the same set of keys to my own children as they grow up.