| LifeTakes |

The Lock Whisperer

I used to wonder where he’d take this. Code breaker. Safe cracker. CIA spy

It’s a frigid Shabbos morning, and we’re standing before a locked door.

I’ve opened this door a dozen times before, have observed others opening it, but suddenly, the combination has slipped my memory. I thought I knew the numbers — there’s logic behind this code — but I must be doing something wrong; the lock won’t release. I could knock, but everyone is two flights up; it would take some time for people to hear us, and there’s also the risk of skinned knuckles. I look at my son, who isn’t sure of the code either, and ask, “Can you open it?”

Of course he can.  His fingers speak the language of locks. He fiddles a bit, the lock yields, and we’re in.

For as long as I can remember, my son has had an uncanny knack with locks. In a backyard day camp he attended one summer, he figured out the code to the home that was hosting the camp. They had one of the easiest combinations — everyone loves those numbers, he told me, at the age of four. We were lucky his counselors found it amusing.

It was less funny when the locks he cracked opened doors that weren’t safe to enter, like the time he opened the door to the pool. We had a talk.

“Even though you know how to do it,” we told him, “it doesn’t mean you should.”

So his talent lay dormant, mostly unused.

But the locks occasionally beckoned, and sometimes he heeded their call. There was that time at shul, when he was five, and my husband, who saw him slip away, knew exactly where he was going. A few minutes later he was back, the happiness on his face confirmation. He’d opened the door to one of the side rooms.

“Ta,” he said, “I was only playing with it, but I figured it out.”

“We’ll have to change it,” said a mispallel who overheard the exchange.

This logical suggestion didn’t always help, my son later explained. Like many skills, it’s an enigma to those who don’t have it. It’s not a big deal, he’d say. In some instances, people choose obvious combinations, and never change them. Other times, it’s the locks that give themselves away. Certain tabs on a lock feel different, he explained.

But I remember that cold Shabbos morning, standing at a door with a lock that wouldn’t yield, and I know it’s not that simple.

I used to wonder where he’d take this. Code breaker. Safe cracker. CIA spy. People have all sorts of abilities. An uncanny memory, swinging from monkey bars, a particular aptitude for tying gorgeous bows. Some talents have obvious uses, but you can’t help but wonder about some others. How does a double-jointed thumb play out meaningfully on the stage of life? Everyone must have SOME knack they can’t imagine how to channel, a useless talent. There are no useless talents, my husband says, sending me on flights of imagination where I picture my son on a top-secret mission with a stethoscope draped around his neck cracking a long-forgotten code on a long-forgotten safe and retrieving something of great significance.

Now he’s older, and cracking codes is a thing of the past. These days, the most he’ll do is help his brother open a toy safe or reset my gym combination lock.

But occasionally, he gets called to action.

Some years ago, on the first weekend of the summer season, the gabbai of the colony’s shul couldn’t open the aron kodesh safe. As the men were gathering in the shul for Kabbalas Shabbos, a mini crisis was brewing. How were they going to lein the next morning? Would they need to join another colony for leining?

“Let my son do it,” my husband said.

The gabbai scoffed. “He’s just a kid, and this is a real safe.”

They gave him a chance anyway.

The gabbai had a vague approximation of the numbers, and armed with that scant bit of information, my son cracked the code and opened the safe.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” he said.

But it was. He’d opened a safe, after all. He spent the rest of the weekend brushing off challenges from various neighbors. “Can you figure out the code to our front door?” But he was back to the game his friends were playing. It was like his talent had been called to center stage and had its moment to shine, and now that there was no immediate need, it returned to dormancy.

Maybe there really are no useless talents. Maybe there are just talents waiting for their moment.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 883)

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