Keys to her Queendom

I work in a feminist counseling collective—a dying breed in hierarchical society. It takes a lot of work to run an agency by consensus, a lot of trust in one another, a lot of taking responsibility. We’re committed to working together, through personality challenges, differences of opinion, hurt feelings, and frustrations. We show up for each other during tragedies (death, health crises, divorce) and celebrations (marriages, babies, new houses, etc.). In doing so, we come to know each other more deeply than as just office mates.


Regularly we meet for Process Meetings—a time to clear the air, address personal as well as clinical issues. It’s a time where licensed staff, interns, administrator, and supervisors come together (there’s a separate meeting where the Board joins us) to remember who we are and why we’re doing the work we’ve chosen to do. We often begin with an exercise or ritual of some sort. The most recent was a “sharing of keys.”


Everyone was asked to take their keys from their pockets or bags or purses and lay them out in plain sight. Certainly easy enough. Then we went around the circle and shared what our collection of keys represented. I’d never of thought of a key ring as diagnostic or personally revealing until I listened to the sighs and murmurs as people fondly touched a key to a home they no longer own, or fingered several keys for which they had no recall of the source, but were unable to remove them from the ring. Eyes watered at a key that went to the first car owned, long since totaled. Keys held stories that lingered like physical memories, ancestral and firmly planted, though no longer active in the person’s life, to be cherished.


My own set of keys revealed an attachment to all things “old”: my ancient Honda—one for the door, one for the ignition; my 1953 Schwinn from my childhood that still transports me around town (to save mileage on my old Honda); the deadbolt on my parents’ home in another state that was rented out after their deaths—the locks were changed, but the key remains on my ring; and the key to my funky little cottage constructed back in the 1930s. Then there are the three keys required to get into one of my offices, and the master key that opens all the doors in the other, which I’ve always found perplexing. There’s the “quiet key” to my daughter’s house, given to me when the grandtwins were infants and would have been woken from a hard-won nap if I’d rung the doorbell. That one still makes me smile.


I noticed the smiles as we went around the circle, sharing this usually unexamined portion of our lives. Smiles and a soft moistening of eyes that comes with vulnerability in a safe environment. That’s something I value in our collective, vulnerability as a strength.


The next time you gather with a group of friends, give this exercise a try. May it deepen your knowing of each other—and after all, isn’t that one of the gifts of life?