Mary Ellen is my super friend.
Supermom to two great boys, super VP of international finance, supersize that burger and fries we share when we get together.
(Who am I trying to fool? We each order our own, clearly…)
Mary Ellen is also super modest. She didn’t want me to use her real name for this article.
I insisted because I’m super excited to tell you about the secret superpower she didn’t even know she had.
Until she stumbled upon The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot.
Outside of Michael’s. Yes, the crafts store.
Here’s the story…
Mary Ellen had just parked her car when she sees The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot.
It’s a young mom with a tiny baby.
And she’s not just crying, she’s sobbing. Hysterically.
Mary Ellen is a super empathetic person, so she stops to ask what’s wrong.
The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot can barely respond, she’s so upset.
Through sobs, she hiccups out a response.
She’s having a really bad day! She was rushing to get her baby her bottle! And she dropped her keys!
… AND THEY FELL INTO THE SEWER GRATE!
(Resume hysterical sobbing)
She can’t just retrieve her keys. Because they’re UNDERNEATH THE GRATE. Down in the sewer. IN THE MUCK.
(I know what you’re thinking… why not call the police? Surely they can deal with emergencies like these…)
THEY’D BEEN CALLED. They can’t help because there’s no immediate danger. The car is unlocked, the baby is safe. The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot just needs a spare set of keys to get home.
(I know what you’re thinking now… isn’t there someone who can bring her the spare keys?)
HER MOTHER, she cries. Her mother is the one who helps her with the baby and could get her the keys. Except that right now her mother is not available because… SHE’S AT THE CASINO!
(Why does this seem apropos? Hopefully, she’s having better luck at the craps table…)
There is only one person who can help. The town employee with the tools to remove the sewer grate.
AND HE’S OFF ON SUNDAYS!
This is where Mary Ellen leaps into high gear. She can’t even SEE the keys, stuck as they are IN THE MUCK and the BOTTOM OF THE SEWER, UNDERNEATH THE GRATE.
Yet, somehow, instinctively, she sees a solution.
“Listen,” she tells The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot, “I know you don’t know me and I could be some crazy person.” (She is a little crazy, I can vouch for that). “But we’re going to MacGyver our way out of this situation!”
The young woman, barely old enough to have remembered the late 1990’s, stops sniveling, perplexed.
“Never mind, I’ll be right back!” Mary Ellen is a mom on a mission. Like she’s only got two minutes before the bomb detonates, she’s driven by some greater force straight into Michaels. Yes, the crafts store.
She buys duct tape. She buys banner poles. She buys a MAGNET. (I kid you not).
The banner poles, I learn later, are the same ones displayed on her neighbor’s doorway, from which a flag featuring a squirrel proudly announces, “Welcome to the Nut House.”
(This also seems oddly apropos…)
Her hero-saving toolkit complete, she goes back outside where the The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot is watching, perplexed, as my super friend Mary Ellen RIGS UP A MAGNETIZED CAR KEY-SAVING DEVICE made entirely of purchases from Michael’s. That’s right… the crafts store.
She inserts the duct-taped-magnetized-pole contraption into the sewer grate like she’s fishing for a golden trout. Then slowly… ever-so-slowly… retrieves the car keys to the grateful and still perplexed but No Longer Crying Lady in the Parking Lot.
Relaying the story to me days later, Mary Ellen is excited. It’s like she discovered a different part of herself. And she’s still on a high from the thrill of it all.
Super problem-solver extraordinaire, super-crafty, super strategic, super successful Mary Ellen.
I’m super proud of her. Would I have done the same? I’d like to think I’d have extended some sympathy but can’t say I’d have any success magnetizing car keys out of the muck at the bottom of a sewer grate.
In fact, I’m sure I wouldn’t have even thought to try.
That’s not my superpower. I’m just the storyteller. My contribution here is clear and clearly after the fact.
I want you to know my superhero friend Mary Ellen. I want you to read about her superpower. And I want you to believe in your own.
You might not yet have encountered the circumstances to discover your secret superpower, but you have one.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”
I say, “You never know what your superpower might be until you’re forced to MacGyver a set of car keys out of a sewer grate for The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot you’ve just met outside of Michael’s. The crafts store.”
We don’t always see our superpowers until they reveal themselves.
Circumstances arise and we rise to greet them.
Mary Ellen could’ve just gotten in her car that day and gone home. She could have done what I would have done – expressed pity for The Crying Lady in the Parking Lot or offered to wait with her until help arrived.
But, no, she jumped into action and MacGyvered her way to a solution. Or, as I will now say, she “Mary Ellen’d” her way to a solution.
Ultimately, she says, she’s not the giver in this story, but the recipient.
“Even though the point was to help a stranger,” Mary Ellen says, “I think she actually helped me more. It feels great when you can use your ‘superpower’ for good.”
Now you know who to call when you need to rig up a key-saving device. All it takes is some banner poles, some duct tape, a magnet, and my super friend Mary Ellen.
Liked this article? Maybe you’d also enjoy: Stop Running the Stairs for Someone Else’s Hot Dog or What I Learned About Myself Through Paint-by-Numbers.
Valerie Gordon is a lifelong storyteller, a 10x Emmy-winning television producer and the founder and owner of career and communication strategy firm The Storytelling Strategist and the Commander-in-She blog. Got a good story to share? Email her at email@example.com