Across from my building is a horseshoe-shaped little street, the kind of place you could drive past for years and then one day turn your head, catch a glimpse, and wonder if it’d been there all this time. I only discovered it because it is a perfect route for an early morning dog walk. The back of the horseshoe street abuts the railroad tracks, with the two sides lined with nondescript duplex homes. At one end in the back is an electrician’s shop – on the other an old low cement block building that probably served as the garages for several homes on the block. 

One of the first mornings that I noticed this building, I was intrigued that besides the garage doors there was a regular door. On the window was a faded sticker proclaiming that you could find “Dependable Stairs” if you let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages.  Another rusted sign, that probably would be noteworthy on the show “American Pickers”, proclaims “Say Pepsi Please”. This trip back in time made me smile.

Each day I’d look forward to discovering something new about the building: a rotted step had been replaced, a new door installed. One day, as I approached, I saw a light in the window and heard a familiar sound: wood being planed. Again, I smiled, fondly remembering the wood shop we had in our basement where my ex would turn loads of cherry, walnut or pine planks into beautiful pieces of furniture. I’d peek in as I walked by, catching a glimpse of a craftsman with the sander or standing at a saw or planer. Dependable stairs in the works.

Last week as I approached the building I saw a man about to enter it. He stopped near the door, raised a metal hinge, leaned forward and peered at something. He then closed the hinge and opened the door. It stopped me in my tracks. Here I thought this was a throw-back to an earlier, simpler time, but what I just witnessed appeared to be a facial recognition entry system. It took me only a minute to get the conspiracy theories revving in my head: this was a front for a spy organization! Maybe it was connected to the data breach that recently happened. What a perfect place to hide in plain sight!

My mind was still racing as I approached the door, now with more trepidation. Trying to act nonchalant – “I saw nothing” – I glanced towards the device the man had utilized. 

It was a metal mailbox. He was looking inside to get the mail. 

I breathed a sigh of relief and realized these truths:

  1. I read or watch too many espionage stories
  2. I have a vivid imagination
  3. The mind can be convinced of anything with little evidence 
  4. We see what we want to see

Oh yes – and I am influenced by reality TV shows. In fact, I had a cousin who was on one of the first well-known shows and I even “auditioned” to be on one. What I learned from the experience was something akin to this “spy camera” scenario: Nothing is really as it seems. My cousin reported that a lot is cut in a way to increase the drama. And in my case, I just wanted a remodeled house and so was trying to get on one of those “sweat equity” shows. The producer “encouraged” us to come up with a backstory that would “sell” the show. My son and I came up with a good one about his needing to play the drums to alleviate his stress and there was no place to do in this downsized home that I had to get after a divorce and failed business. (insert single tear falling down cheek…) My daughter, ever the practical one, would have nothing to do with our “enhanced” story. And fortunately, we didn’t get chosen. It was a great lesson for me about how we can get so caught up in our own stories that we really lose sight of reality. 

In this time of wanting to spin occurrences to meet our needs, we need to be reminded that as exciting as it would be to discover a spy ring, sometimes it is really just a metal mailbox. As tempting as it is to jump to the drama, to point the accusatory finger, to spin a tall tale, we really owe it to ourselves to take a breath, to examine the facts and ask the questions:

            What is the truth? 

            Does something need to be said?

            Does it need to be said now?

            Does it need to be said by me?

In a time of where we are cooped up, short on human contact, and needing diversions, it is enticing to create or be drawn in by the drama. The challenge is to accept reality, as it is, and release the need for it – or you – to be something else. Sometimes all that is needed is a sigh, a laugh…and to just walk on by.