A reminder to notice
What I nearly missed
It all started with a simple question, as most adventures and misadventures do. “Garrett, can you and John take us to the creek?” asked one of a gaggle of middle schoolers. “Sure — as long as we’re back for dinner.”
A hike to the creek became a hike up the hill became a hike to the cave became a hike along the cliff, down the valley, past the horses and over the river and the long way back. Luckily dinner was a little late: We returned just in time.
Of all the places and days to lose my keys, this was the worst: My pockets were empty when I got back. For all I knew they were a foot deep in a rattlesnake hole, at the bottom of the creek or hopelessly orphaned along the sheer edge of a shrubby cliff. But most likely they were sitting, shiny silver and gold, in anonymous grasses trailblazed by our ambitious expedition leaders. Hopeless, totally hopeless. But I went back. I had to.
“Garrett, what’s wrong?” my friend asked.
“I … don’t know where … my keys are …” I sputtered between catching my breath. Luckily they made a lot of dinner — I was worried there wouldn’t be any left. I’d missed it re-hiking the same trail, retracing our steps as best as I could remember, scouring every inch of grassy soil for my keys. Nothing.
“Oh, we’ve got them over there.” She pointed toward the fire pit with her spoon. “We found them in the chair after you left. You should’ve asked! Did you eat yet?”
I got hit with a one-two punch of emotions, first solid relief and then shame and embarrassment. I replayed the whole thing in my mind later that night, staring up at the roof of my tent. Why didn’t I say something before? Why didn’t I ask? Why didn’t I wait? Why did I skip dinner for that? Why am I always so stubborn?
Sometimes my prayer isn’t just about noticing unnoticed graces, the small gifts I nearly miss. Sometimes my prayer is about slowing down enough to notice my growing edges and my rough edges, actually listening to the day’s moments of shame or embarrassment, fear or anger that otherwise I like to conveniently forget. Sometimes my prayer is about just taking the time to learn from my mistakes — in this case, not losing my mind along with my keys, calming down and asking for help, and being more gentle with myself in moments of panic. After all, I would have enjoyed dinner more without the second hike. •
About the author
Jesuit Scholastic Garrett Gundlach, S.J., Arts ’09, teaches at Red Cloud High School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.