Third Chances

Frank and Opal are upset this year (see Frank and Opal). The last plunge of the polar vortex kept them away from Flesher Pond until March 18. Sam texted me while I was in baby heaven (see Sleep-deprived but Happy) in the Pacific Northwest: “Frank and Opal have arrived.” He said they wandered over the yard, and came and left, and came again. Opal still hasn’t nested. We don’t think it’s “Frank” or “Opal.” We go along for years, and even decades in the case of our resident geese, and then everything changes. Sometimes, too, the Big Ds invade our lives: disease, divorce, death.

Last Thanksgiving, Sam and I were too busy to get to the hospital. Our brother-in-law just had his second “little” heart attack in two weeks. We decided to wait and see him on the weekend, back at his home. On Saturday, both cars were there when we pulled into the drive. My younger sister didn’t answer her phone or my text so I sheepishly walked into the garage and pushed open the kitchen door. The dogs didn’t come to greet me, and that was strange. It felt too intrusive to go to the bottom of the stairs and call up, “Are you up there?” But I felt strongly that I should see him NOW.

Instead we drove away. At 3:30 the next morning, she called. “He fell to the floor and is not responding. Meet me at the hospital.”

I had to wash my hair, but we were still in the car in twenty minutes. In the E.R., I asked her to take me in to see him. His body was still warm when I touched his forehead. It just wasn’t right. Nothing about it was right. But he was gone.

Four years ago, I was busy planning my own 60th birthday party. I thought maybe that would bring my children home. And it worked! Spring was a happy time planning and preparing for my family. Then things turned the wrong way. A month before Party Day, we got word that my cousin was diagnosed with leukemia. My older sister, K.S. (see Jerky and Pears, Two Good Women, and The Red Truck) and I, busy with party planning, decided to wait to visit her.

Ten days before the party the toilet started to leak. Sam had to tear out the floor; and finished the sub-floor, vinyl, and new low-flow toilet in record time. In the living room, a crack in the wall became large enough that we knew it wasn’t just our old house shifting. I cleaned up the drywall dust on the floor and Sam went outside to tear off the cedar siding. Extensive termite damage, up waist high. We called the bug man. Then the u-joint and the air conditioner went out on the Jeep Cherokee. Then the fridge died, and the dryer, too (no kidding). Just before the party one night, my cousin needed emergency surgery. The next morning, we heard she did not pull through. My sister and I had missed the window to say, “Hello. We’re so sorry you are sick.” We missed saying goodbye.

THEN we had a great party.

Since there were too many expenses before the party, Sam and I exchanged our two-week vacation at the Outer Banks for two days in Michigan. Our in-laws joined us, and the second afternoon they drove our Jeep back to the campsite. Not knowing how to tell us, they pointed to the back bumper. A telephone pole in the restaurant parking lot had reached out and bashed them. With a shrug, I calmed the worried look on their faces. I would rather have a broken bumper than another funeral.

Change is hard, but also inevitable. The geese aren’t nesting. And God gives third chances.

“If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? …In my life, I have lost my way more times than I can count. I have set out to be married and ended up divorced. I have set out to be healthy and ended up sick…I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path.” Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

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