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The Key

Nineteen eighty-four. I felt aimless. Two years earlier, I had moved to Green Bay WI, a small "city" with a great history of football, drinking, factories, and not much else. Work pulled me there, a job opportunity that was unmatched by any other company. For a twenty eight-year-old female engineer, the opportunity was unsurpassed. Yet, I dreaded the prospect.

I was lonely for four long years. My friends were all work friends and the friendships felt situational. My spiritual and emotional life was as stark as the long cold winters. My days were filled with emptiness: 12 hour work days, evenings passed in front of the TV or at the YMCA.
Out of desperation I enrolled in a community education class. The subject was journal writing using the Progoff method. I hoped I might find some interesting students in that class, perhaps make some friends.

One evening the teacher had us write a story spontaneously as fast as we could. No thinking allowed. I dubiously picked up my pen. The teacher gave us the go ahead. I was simply amazed. My pen took off across the paper; it had a life of its own. This story wrote itself.

What I did not realize that evening was that the story was a portent of things to come that would change my life and put me firmly on the path I was looking for. It speaks of a healing method in shamanism called soul retrieval. At the time I wrote this story, I had never heard of soul retrieval or shamanism.

She walked through the mountains at peace with the world. She loved to escape from civilization and see no one for days at a time. People were horrified that she went alone and warned her of the dangers a solitary woman could encounter. She listened carefully but always in the end decided that it was worth the risks. She longed for quiet, majestic tall trees, and stark red rock cliffs.

She hiked up the trail that crisscrossed a stream. Sometimes she had to struggle to climb as her pack dragged on the rocks making her balance precarious. Finally she found the spring dripping from under a boulder that the ranger had told her about.
She rested. Her legs ached from the climb. The water tasted good and cold in her empty stomach.
She sat in the sun and baked like the lizards she heard scuttling over the rocks. Her eyelids became heavy and she could barely resist the urge to snooze in the warm sun.

She awoke from her reverie with a start. Had she heard something clatter on the rock near her? Something metal?
She searched the area and found it lying in the middle of a large flat rock so obvious and bright she could not possibly have missed it before. A gold key shining with unearthly beauty – it seemed to vibrate, hum as she picked it up. The thought entered her head with such force that she was startled. "This way" it said, "this way!" She followed the feeling – up out of the stream trail, over the rocks. She found a faint path. She walked on, mesmerized.

Some time later (she had lost track of time) she became aware of wings overhead. She glanced upward. A large bird –an eagle!- was circling her and had been, she was sure, for some time now. The sound of its wings was strangely familiar. The bird landed when she looked up. They watched each other. She knew the eagle was there to guide her. It began to walk ahead and she followed.
Occasionally, the eagle flew off, but she stayed on the trail. The key still hummed in her hand, imparting a faint electricity to the veins in her arm. She felt compelled by the key, directed by the eagle. She stopped noticing where her feet were on the trail and simply moved forward.

She stopped, startled. She was at the edge of a sheer cliff. She was shocked at how close she stood to the edge without seeming to notice.
The bird appeared and flew down into the cliff, disappearing into a wall directly below her. She balked at the thought of following it. Her greatest fear was of heights and even the idea of stepping over the edge immobilized her, turning her muscles to liquid.
The bird returned and showed her a faint trail. She climbed slowly, stepping gingerly, forcing her body to move while her mind shouted, "STOP!" Stones loosened under her boots and fell into the canyon with a distant thud; but miraculously, she never lost her balance. The key seemed to give her a lightness of being; the fear of the descent lessened and she was able to move more freely.

Finally, she reached the opening and found a cave entrance walled in with an iron door. She found a ring embedded in sand and dirt. After scraping the ring free, she pulled on it to try to open the door. It would not budge. It was as if the door itself was part of the cliff and its natural state was closed. She examined the door more closely. Just above the ring was a slight indentation. She scraped again and made out the outline of a keyhole. She took out her pocketknife and angled the tip into the keyhole, trying to scrape out all the debris that time and winds had collected.

Finally, she took out the key. She hesitated as she examined it. The thoughts of ancient myths haunted her. If she put that key into the keyhole and opened the door, what would she release into the world? Was it Pandora’s Box? The gate to hell? How could she take such a risk?

She let out a deep breath as she pocketed the key. Unknown territory. She had better find someone else better prepared to deal with this mystery. She was a woman alone in the wilderness. Not now!

She turned to leave and saw the eagle. It had perched on a stone about five feet away. It was waiting expectantly and she knew it was waiting for something good.

She pulled the key out of her pocket and jammed it into the keyhole. It was rusty but it fit. She tried to turn it; she wiggled it. Finally, she made progress and the key turned ninety degrees. She yanked on the door and seams appeared around it, separating it from the dirt. It opened slowly, ponderously.

She saw only blackness inside; then she heard a rustle, a light laugh, a cry of joy. Out of the entrance spilled children. They hugged and kissed her. One cried, "You have released us! We thought you’d never come."



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