The Butter Knife

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My mother and I — weary with travel, drained from a day of sightseeing, and armed with only a butter knife — once dismantled a bathroom door in a Paris apartment. We were exhausted, having, in true Schultz family vacation style, walked about 10 miles through France’s great metropolis. As we marched up the six flights of stairs at 11:00 pm to reach our rented apartment, I though back to the cool white marble of our bathroom at home, longing for a hot shower to rest my weary bones and revive my poor feet. The wind, however, had other plans. You see, we innocent Americans had left the front window open in the hope of introducing a slight breeze to our non-air-conditioned apartment. This open window reacted with the other window in the bathroom, generating a cross breeze that somehow managed to close and lock the bathroom door. We walked in, at first blissfully unaware of our dilemma, then shocked and frightened to find the locked door.

My first thought was irrational, fearful: “There is a robber in the bathroom!” My second, equally irrational, was spurred by the recent black belt that I had earned in martial arts: “Clearly I must kick down the door!” Suddenly, our plan to live on our own like real Parisians instead of staying in a touristy hotel seemed like a very bad idea. Eventually, we escaped a personal haze of confusion and full bladders to see the only solution: we had to dismantle the door by ourselves. We prayed for a key as we scavenged around the apartment, looking for anything that could be of use (for future reference: if you rent a French apartment bring your own screwdriver). Finally, we settled on a butter knife. Working together, as only a mother and daughter united through jet lag and fatigue could, we slowly took apart the handle and the deadbolt — and finally the door swung open, releasing our captive bathroom.

Through what has come to be known in our family as “The Butter Knife Experience,” I found a new approach to an entire array of situations that had once seemed daunting. For most of my life I viewed creativity as separate from my methods of logic and analysis. I saved my creativity for “creative” acts — writing, singing, and acting. When a problem crossed my path, my genetic stubbornness kicked in and I rammed my head against the obstacle until it was shattered. Although eventually I would succeed, I accepted no help and often ended up with quite the headache (metaphorically speaking, for the most part). After that experience of taking a challenge in stride, of working together towards a concrete goal, I saw a new way. I can adapt, be strong, and accept help; I can work with someone, rather than tackling a challenge all alone, and can keep a cool head in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. While we may have longed for an actual key, I believe I found a more valuable key of another kind — a better way to solve problems.

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