It was towards the end of my first semester at Binghamton University, just before finals week. To let off steam some dorm-mates and I went to a midnight showing of “Wizard of Oz” in one of the main lecture halls. Kinda random but whatever. It recently rained and snowed – the long walk across campus was cold and slippery and our balance additionally challenged with occasional gusts of wind well below freezing.

I wasn’t as drunk as my companions and therefore kinda found the whole experience a boring waste of time. Mission complete, I happily trudged back after the movie yearning to return to the warmth of my dorm room. I went to unlock the main door to the building when.. I realized my keys were missing. Shit! They must have fallen out of the pocket of my stupid pants during this pointless social outing.

Adolescent-level panic set in, and while the others just went on inside and quickly to sleep I began retracing my steps in the frosty night air. The campus was quite dark and lonely now at 2am. I scampered back to the lecture hall, desperately scanning downward at the snow and slush and ice the entire way.

I arrived at the hall – still no sign of my key ring. I banged on various windows until a janitor finally let me in to look around. Nothing there. I actually sat there by myself in the dark hall for a good half hour, warming up and meditating on this new, unexpected life where I will be spending the scant few precious remaining hours before finals not studying but instead dealing with painful bureaucratic processes: obtaining new keys, replacing various locks at inflated costs, etc.

Now 3am, I left the hall and went back into the tundra towards my dorm, hoping somebody will be awake to let my sorry ass in when I come knockin’. I noticed it must have snowed again for a bit while I was inside contemplating my sad fate. The entire campus was now all asleep in their toasty beds. Just me, the big loser, out there all alone, considering completely dropping out of college if this was how it’s gonna be.

I have no idea how to describe the following other than: a sudden pang of awareness stopped me in my tracks. Like somebody grabbed my shoulders and slapped my face. And then I was suddenly compelled to turn around and retrace my steps. And after about 20 feet I had to stop again, my eyes now drawn to this one footprint. I reflexively kicked away the recently fallen snow around the imprint further revealing some glinting metal caked beneath the ice below.

My keys. My keys!! My keys… which must have fallen at that spot hours earlier, and then were stepped on by a fellow student thus encasing it in a cocktail of slush and ice and further obscured by more snow. And were finally left alone for however many hours until I was magically drawn to them.

I carved them out, shook off the frozen bits and began the triumphant walk back to my dorm. The skies had since cleared a bit, and – despite not being a traditionally religious person – I couldn’t help but look up at the cloudless heavens and say, “thank you!”

And right at that moment – I shit you not – a shooting star crossed the entire sky.

Wow. The whole way back I was giddy with a cocktail of joyous relief, mild hypothermia, and existential awe due to what could arguably be perceived as divine intervention. I uttered to myself in a continual loop: “wow… wow… wow… wow…”

About Matt Lebofsky

Musician wearing many hats. Played in a bunch of bands, toured in hundreds of cities around the planet. Also a general geek who works on several of the world's biggest scientific projects searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Grew up in suburban NYC. Now lives in Oakland, CA.
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