The other day when my wife was sick, I did my fatherly duty and got the kids out of the house so that she could rest. My plan was to put my infant son in the stroller and load up the wagon with recyclable paper and cardboard, and my 3 year old daughter could take one and I would take the other. After the regular rigmarole of me continually reaching over and balancing, steering and pushing the wagon and my daughter insisting she could cope on her own, we arrived at the department store parking lot that housed the publicly accessible bins.
As we walked from the path to the recycling area, I noticed something odd. There was a vehicle with a set of keys dangling from the trunk key hole. I kept walking and was soon unloading my cardboard, newspaper and assorted papers. When we returned to the car, the keys were still there and there was no sign that anybody was on their way any time soon.
It was now clear that this wasn’t someone who would just run in quickly. The car was also near the back of the parking lot, suggesting that this person was either working at the store and had parked there to allow customers to park closer or the person was carpooling and had left the car there while they traveled somewhere else. Either way, at 7pm, it seemed as though the odds were that this person might not be returning any time soon, and with nightfall approaching, something should be done.
I decided that I would call the department store. I explained the situation and asked if I should bring the keys in to them. The woman at the customer service desk explained that this kind of thing happened from time to time and people always knew to check there. So, with the wagon, stroller and two children in tow, I went into the store. I walked past the vending machines and the children’s rides in the entrance and waited in line to give the keys to woman I had spoken to. On the way out of the store, after insisting I didn’t in fact have money for the miniature merry-go-round, I heard an announcement that the owner of that particular car, with the corresponding license plate should report to the customer service desk. Whether or not my children were aware of what we had just done, I left the store thinking that I had done the right thing and that the owner of the vehicle would soon be reunited with their keys.
As I approached the car one more time, suddenly a pickup truck pulled up beside it and a young female passenger got out. When I saw her walk to the back of the car and set her purse down on top of the trunk, I asked her if this was her car. When she said that it was, I explained, apologetically, what had happened. She said, with astonishment, that she had parked the car there eight hours earlier. She was surprised that she could have been so forgetful and that nothing had happened to the car in the meantime. She thanked me profusely and ran to the store to retrieve her keys.
I too was surprised that nothing had happened to them that whole time, but I was mostly surprised that she thanked me. After all, if I had done nothing, she would have been driving home already. I had probably set her back about five minutes. Had I done nothing, she would have returned to her car and thought fondly of all the people who had walked by and resisted the urge to steal her car. Instead, now her forgetfulness had become public and she was forced to ask herself what could have happened if a theoretical bad person had found the keys before this theoretically good person.
I don’t totally regret my actions, but I do wonder if I accomplished anything more than re-instill the image that we should fear strange people who will eventually harm us and steal our belongings. I do believe that this young woman received grace that day, I’m just not sure I was the primary deliverer of it.