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Absent Minded

When Rudy, our first-born, started college, I knew it was apron-string-cutting time, even though he still lived at home. But it wasn’t easy to do, especially since it seemed obvious to me that Rudy still needed parental help. Our A-average student, National Merit scholar, respected student leader, would regularly misplace his wallet, jacket, important assignment, keys—even his car, occasionally. (Did I walk or drive this morning? Which parking lot?) You’ve heard of the absent-minded professor; Rudy was the absent-minded student.

So, after nearly twenty years as his mom, I had deeply ingrained habits of worrying and sending desperation prayers heavenward: “Please help us find his _______,” while urgently searching for whatever was currently lost. Other people’s kids might be independent at this stage, but not mine. At least in certain ways, he still needed my help; I was sure of it.

One thing my husband, Marty, and I did get through to Rudy: the importance of locking the car. He often left his valuables inside—textbooks, backpack, electronics—items that would be difficult, expensive, or impossible to replace. We could search for misplaced belongings, but not for stolen ones.

One day we would discover that the locking lesson had been well learned—perhaps too well.

On a breezy spring weekend our son and a friend towed Rudy’s second-hand sailboat to the Snake River, less than an hour from our home. Later that day Marty and I decided to go for a walk in the park near the marina. Rudy was a capable sailor, but there had been several maintenance problems with the aging boat, so we were hoping he wouldn’t need any special assistance that day.

At the river we recognized his colorful sail far out on the water. The breeze was gentle, and everything seemed to be going well. We strolled in the park for an hour and then headed for the end of the jetty alongside the boat ramp.

“It looks like Rudy’s finished sailing and ready to pull out,” Marty observed as we passed the ramp. Indeed, the boat was fastened to the trailer and his car was idling, ready to pull into the parking lot. But when we returned from the jetty ten minutes later, we were puzzled to see the car and sailboat still on the ramp.

Just then Rudy’s friend approached: “Rudy saw your Jeep in the parking lot and went to the park to look for you,” he said. “Do you by any chance have a spare key to his car?”

What?!! Talk about absent-minded; apparently he had pushed down the lock button when he got out to secure the boat!

Just then Rudy returned, and we all sized up the situation. Both doors and the trunk were locked, the windows rolled up. The key was in the ignition; the engine was running. The spare key was at home, at least a ninety-minute round trip away, and the nearest locksmith was close to an hour in the other direction. Other boats were on the river and would soon need to use the ramp.

What a dilemma! This situation was considerably more desperate than a mere misplaced jacket!

“Please help us, Jesus,” I prayed, ineloquently.

Just then I remembered a story I’d heard about a key that had opened the wrong car. Feeling rather foolish but with no better ideas, I handed Rudy my Jeep key, and he inserted it into his Dodge’s driver’s-side lock.

Unbelievably, the key turned, and the lock buttons popped up!

With a casual “Thanks, Mom,” Rudy tossed me the key, hopped into the driver’s seat, and drove up the ramp into the parking lot.

Amazed, we four gathered around the car. We all wanted to try it again. With my key. With Marty’s key. In the driver’s door, in the passenger door, even in the trunk. But neither Jeep key would work again in any lock on the Dodge.

That day this mom learned to worry a bit less and to trust a lot more. Clearly, there is Someone else who can handle desperate situations, even for absent-minded students.

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