We don't always get second chances. We can't take back a hurtful comment, a quip directed at our spouse that we knew was unkind but still seemed well-deserved. We can't magically grab back the email that was sent when we were too hurt to respond in a reasonable way. We can't stop the flood of tears that flow at the most inopportune times and reveal a vulnerability that gives way quickly to a torrent of anger.
We all have had these things happen, just the many life mistakes that disappear into our field of experiences that "help us learn", "make us grow" or encourage us to be "better" people. How valuable these life experiences are that we would have liked to take back but impossible. We move on.
What about the big mistakes? The ones that end in near tragedy and leave us gasping for breath at what could have been, almost was, nearly happened. But we "got lucky" and the calamity was missed, crisis averted, and it was counted or rather, discounted as a "close call". Unfortunately or fortunately, again, it is always in the eye of the beholder, I have had a few personal experiences with this level of what could have ended terribly but in the end did not. I walked away whole, perhaps embarrassed and even feeling chastised, but went to sleep and did not feel an elephant on my chest when I awoke in the morning. Like any good movie, there was a scary story but safe ending.
I remember a few summers ago spending the day at Cape Lookout with friends and we happened upon what could only be deemed as a "close call" situation. Not an hour before, several boats had pulled into the shallows and many children as children do, tore off their life jackets, hopped into the foot or so deep, clear calm water and sprinted off for the white beach resplendent with tidal pools filled with sea creatures. The beach also had somewhat of a hill, every summer changing due to storm or wind and this particular day, three of the children continued on out of sight. They could not be seen by the parents, moms and dads schlepping umbrellas, chairs, sand toys, coolers, and bags filled with chips, flippers, and sunscreen, all in the name of a great day at the Cape.
After five or ten minutes, the antennae of several mamas went up and they headed off, not too casually, to search for their delinquents, suntanned brown and gap-toothed first and second graders. Where could they be? Nowhere. They were nowhere and for a few anxious minutes time must have stood still as the panic set in these good mothers who had but for a moment let their little people get out of sight. Not tiny little people but children already in elementary school. They were big brothers and sisters, good swimmers and they were gone. Nowhere.
Gone until a boat was seen heading to shore, a boat so far in the distance that the mothers could not see who was driving or who may be the passengers. Closer and closer it came until hearts leapt as mothers spotted the tanned children, gap-toothed smiles, and frantic waving. Indeed, a crisis was averted and the children were miraculously found by a fisherman casually trolling along the shoreline when he and a buddy spotted the three small people bobbing in the ocean, casually swimming until they were pulled quickly out to sea by the outgoing tide. Those mothers realized their second chances were all safe and sound on that boat.
I can't not share my own stories if I am to remain true to my promise of transparency. Both dangerous, both involving my precious children, and both offered me second chances. The first was this past summer and I have shared it with only a handful of very close friends as the nightmare still seems so real that I really have avoided reliving the terrible moment. The moment when I realized that after stopping to use the restroom several miles back on a road trip, my son Russell was not in the car. Amos was screaming, so unusual for him that I pulled over and when I directed Russell to hand him his blankie, I heard instead, Blair announce that Russell was not back there. Typically I had two in the way back and two in the middle, but today my oldest was off with friends and so, Russell had the entire way back and my two youngest were in the middle.
We had stopped to use the bathroom, two of us inside and typical Russell chose to go in the woods beside the car and promised to get in and wait with Amos while we hurried inside. We came back moments later, hopped in the car and headed down the road maybe two miles when Amos voiced his unhappiness and Russell's presence was missed. I remember the panic as I sit here now with sweating palms. I found the number and called the place we had been, telling them I had left my son, please find him, tell him I was coming. One stoplight. Two stop lights. At the third stoplight, I saw the police car. I saw the blond boy being guided away from the median back to the edge of the highway, cars sped by me and time stood still.
The rush of horrible guilt still drowns my spirit and I fear what my parents may say even now when they catch word of this terrible story, a blot on their remaining child's record. A good mother. I reached the turn and pulled over to a sobbing Russell and I jumped out, barefooted and crying myself, deeply ashamed and embarrassed as an employee began shouting at me, "Why didn't you stop? He was chasing you. Why didn't you stop?!". It has gotten worse. How was I to know Russell had seen me pull away and watched his mama drive off as he followed the car yelling for me to wait, crying for me to stop and going so far as to cross the highway to catch his mother who had simply made a mistake? A terrible one, so terrible that it could have ended up not leaving me able to ever take a deep breath again. While I learned to never ever leave somewhere without counting heads again, the moral of the story is I got ultimately was gifted a second chance.
My second story did not scare me as much as the first though it should have. Perhaps my heart has been hardened or I have just admitted that accidents happen and sometimes they are my fault but are still accidents. Amos. Of course this involved our newly turned two year old who had just learned to walk and like all new walkers, was eager to explore and loved nothing more than to be given the opportunity to wander, supervised by me, in our neighborhood, our house close enough to the drugstore that even six year old Blair was allowed to go with an older brother as chaperone to pick up medicine for a sick sibling or an after school treat of ice cream.
This was a Friday night and a couple of families had been invited over to watch football, have a casual supper and just hang out. Dads monitoring the game, moms drinking wine and chatting in the kitchen and children running in and out the still warm evening and I had propped the back door open. I had made sure to latch all inside doors and given everyone the talk about Amos escaping. Before our guests arrived I had latched the wooden gate that even my oldest son could not open due to the fact that I had slightly run into it with my car earlier that month. And so, I felt confident with the gate latched and all the children, Amos included, went in and out to jump on the trampoline or grab a Popsicle.
The three of us mothers had moved to the old brick patio and Amos went around to the trampoline where he could climb on or stand beneath safely as long as no one was jumping. I followed him to make sure he was alone and came back to my patio chair. Deep conversation resumed and probably five minutes had passed before I thought of Amos again and noticed he was awfully quiet and still out of sight. As I moved to find him underneath the trampoline, I saw the gate. Open. Wide open and no Amos in sight. I sprinted down the driveway and met the police officer carrying Amos on my front walk. I tried to explain, again embarrassed, relieved, and a slightly frustrated that I had the only two year old that was like an energetic puppy, eager to run and explore.
As Amos was being safely returned to us by the kind officer, dear friends drove up and shared how they had seen Amos in front of our little drugstore, over a block away from our house and ACROSS the street. Certainly he was off to find the ice cream when he was picked up by two teenage girls who had quickly found an officer that happened to be down the street too. Our friends had driven up and stopped to see what Amos was doing with two unfamiliar girls and realized the girls had saved him. Our friends quickly told the police officer he indeed belonged to the first house on the street perpendicular to the drugstore. I realize this is a lot of information.
However, I must try my best to illustrate the importance of second chances and for me, third chances. You see, I think life gives us so many saves and yet, we are so quick to count the near misses we all experience as luck. We move on in the universe, our own padded walls, ignorant of the wonderful saves that were offered and taken without a second thought. My sharing is to indicate that I am not entirely oblivious and for me, thankfulness in this life depends on my own knowledge of the grace that envelopes me.