The drawer of the mysteries

Harry Drabik

It is the rare and uncommon household that doesn’t have a catch-all drawer in the kitchen. At any given time and most often for lack of any better place to put smaller objects a kitchen drawer will become the repository for things to go in and then be forgotten. If you move regularly the bits of the past that have been stored away are relatively easy to recognize. But if you’ve been the same place for years or decades the neglected past becomes a mystery as you pull out a set of keys and ask yourself “What the hell car was this from” or “Do these fit the old office?”

Keys are among the prime mysteries of the drawer because most of us consciously or not hold keys in special regard. They are not things easily thrown away. We set them aside. We keep them in the hope they will be useful in future to unlock something of importance. In an earlier time the advertising matchbook (When is the last time you got one of those?) was put away with the keys because of the address or number it contained. The catch-all drawer was a stew of keys, matchbooks, pencil stubs, marginal ballpoints, and odd screws. With the question “Where did this come from” or “I’ll take care of this later” a stray screw or other part went into the drawer where time would turn it into a mystery. “Oh, I remember this; or do I?”

Related to the unknown key is the orphan sock. I’d be surprised at anyone over 18 who has ever been (however briefly) on their own and has not had a sock go missing of a pair. What do we do after an initial search fails to turn up the stray? The people I know are a lot like me in setting the lone sock aside for safekeeping until reunion with its missing half. I prefer returning the lone sock to the laundry basket for another go at the washday roulette wheel. Round and round they go. Will the lost sock return to find its mate? In my experience lost socks never again appear until you’ve discarded the solo sock or have irreparably damaged it by scrubbing the charcoal grill with it. Either of those will draw a lost sock from hiding like iron filings pulled to a magnet.

I suspect there’s something in our human natures that causes us to save old keys and hang onto single socks. Stockings are (are they not) both personal and intimate garments along with being humble in a way that incites sympathy for the solo stocking yearning for its lost mate. That’s the stuff of drama, as are our bare feet telling us “Be kind to that stray sock. It’s been a good friend to me.” It takes a steely person to toss away a solo sock without first performing a long ritual of searching before the sad final farewell. Few things elicit more pathos than a single sock alone and lost in a world where pairs are the rule and the lone sock alien as ordering a burger done rare at a vegetarian wedding party.

Keys from the drawer of mysteries have a deeper import as symbols of things we held or hold dear and important enough to keep secure. The key may be more important to us than the thing it protects. We lock away, guard, and secure those things, people, and ideas of special value. Only a certain few keep their garbage under lock and key, a trait I think it best to leave unexamined. Keys are among things that can show us a bit of our human side. In the drawer of mysteries in my family was my father’s often repeated phrase (from V I Lenin) that religion is the opiate of the people. That is a fair warning; one my parent brought out with regularity as an explanation he passed to me. But as we’re talking about human behaviors and attitudes I find we can try that key in other locks and find that caution it calls for just as useful. Politics and certain social orders can be of equal opiate danger as any religion. Communism, you may recall, used its bright promise of equality to hide a rigid dogmatic political orthodoxy it enforced through political police and a system of gulags that destroyed lives and poisoned the spirit with fear of questioning. What’s the difference if the opiate is fear of a vengeful god or fear of a state political police snatching you from your home over a remark someone has reported? Do you prefer one form of abuse and suffering over the other? I don’t.

A key I once used with comfortable conviction assured me that fundamentalism (and those who are fundamentalists) was itself a problem. I liked that notion and refused to discard it from my drawer of useful accumulation. Over time and of no special effort on my part I realized that key needed to be reexamined not only about what it opened but what it locked out. The nature and content of belief is more important than being fundamentalist in its exercise. Fundamentalism on honesty can easily become tedious if the fundamentalist insists on parsing a measurement to a 1/32nd or 1/100th point of accuracy. In most cases a fundamentalist pacifist poses little societal danger. So far, no Quaker has exploded from their beliefs and no Anabaptist performed assault and battery by prayer. I do wonder, however, about the Amish, Mennonites, and others. Might they rise up from their zipper free non-electric lives to form black powder militias and do a takeover? The content of a belief explains why so few Amish take it into their heads to turn their buggies into assault machines and run down non-Amish pedestrians out for a stroll.

It is a good thing to examine what’s in your drawer of mysteries. Some keys along with useless stubs, unknown parts, and no longer useful notes can be cleared away to make fresh space. Some of the old keys can be reshaped and tested to open things we didn’t know were there until we take the time to look more carefully.