Updated: May 29
A friend of a friend exited the shops one day only to discover her car was missing. Assuming she’d forgotten where she’d parked it, she made a few laps of the carpark until finally the awful truth sank in: her car had been stolen.
She went straight to the police station and the officer at the desk dutifully filled out the paperwork. His face was sympathetic but discouraging.
‘It might turn up,’ he said, ‘but it’s unlikely. It’ll be off to the chop shop for a change of plates then, before you know it, it’ll be sent interstate to a buyer. Your best bet is an insurance claim, but if we hear anything we’ll let you know.’
She left the station feeling frustrated and dejected.
But a few days later, her brother called to say he thought he’d spotted her car outside a nearby supermarket. It was on a stretch of road she would later discover was a notorious drop off point for stolen cars.
Cautiously optimistic, she walked around and there, parked directly across from her, was her car. She recognised the dent in the bumper bar and the crooked RAA sticker in the front window. With a thumping heart, she reached for her phone.
‘I’ve found my car!’ she explained to the officer. ‘What should I do? Hang around till you get here? Take photos? Go home and wait for your call?’
She imagined the police rushing around with sirens blazing or perhaps conducting an all night stakeout to catch the criminals red-handed.
Instead, the police officer replied calmly, ’Do you have your key on you?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘Then go over there and take it back,’ he replied. ‘It’s your car, love.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ she thought. ‘It’s my car.’
Even so, she felt more like a thief than an owner as she nervously crossed the road. Looking over her shoulder, her hands shook as she unlocked the vehicle and slipped into the driver’s seat. It wasn’t until she put the key in the ignition that she felt a subtle shift. It was as if the car somehow recognised her, and she, it, and a transfer of ownership took place from the thieves back to her. Smiling, she turned the key and the engine roared into life as she and the car ignited.
It's a good fifteen years since I first heard this story. What strikes me now is how naturally – how automatically – this woman deferred to an authority figure to give her permission to claim what was rightfully hers. It makes me think of all the times I’ve sought permission from others to make decisions that primarily affect me. How often have I changed direction only when others have granted their approval? And then there are the times I’ve pre-empted their opinion and shut down a new venture before it ever had a chance to begin.
Like a glacier breaking apart, more questions roll into view, each one calving another: Why have I so easily handed over the keys to my own life? Why do I tiptoe around like an unwanted guest in my own skin afraid I’ll be asked to leave? When did I become a lessee instead of an owner? An intruder instead of a host? When did I internalise others’ disapproval and invest it with the final authority over how I run my life?
And finally, what would happen if I stopped all that, took back the key and slid it into the ignition?