Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thank Goodness for Second Chances

Do you think life goes on forever? You think behind every chance there’s another one? And another one?
It is the worst kind of extravagance, spending chances.
It is the way you spend your chances.

“Hope Floats”

That piece of dialogue comes from the scene where Ms. Ramona Calvert, superbly portrayed by Gena Rowland, dresses down her daughter, Birdee Pruitt, played by Sandra Bullock, who has returned home and spends her days hiding under the covers from the world. Her husband has left her and their two young children. As both a New Year and decade dawn, I’ve thought a lot about second chances, both personally and in general.

Most of us agree that we all deserve a second chance. Most of us have benefited from at least one, whether it came from our parents, a spouse, boss, friends or others whom we have wronged in some way. Those of us who have faith understand the ultimate second chance comes from a source beyond this earthly pale. It is undeserved. What interests me today is how we determine who deserves a second chance among those that we encounter in everyday life. I struggle with this daily. I wonder if you do as well.

The other day I left the grocery store on a balmy day, before the latest winter snap blew through. A strapping young man with a backpack stood outside. He buttonholed me and asked for a ride to the train station. I discerned no apparent physical disabilities. He appeared neither mentally impaired nor drunk or stoned. I said, “Sorry,” and headed to my car. Letting someone who was much larger and much stronger than me into my vehicle and driving him to the train station seemed too risky — even if Christmas was just a few days away.

The urge struck me before I left the parking lot to go back and say to that young man, “The Amtrak station is no more than a mile from here. Walk west down Marshall Avenue, take a left on Sixth Street. When that ends, take a right, then left on Mobberly. Go under the railroad overpass then you are there. I walk three miles every day, and I am 54 years old. I see no obvious physical reason you cannot walk that far, young man.”

I thought better of it and headed home. He was nearly a foot taller and at least a feed sack heavier than me. But I wish I had a second chance to say that to him, a second chance to talk some sense into him. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference. Now I will never know.

The day after Christmas, a homeless woman knocked on my door. She wanted to know how to get hold of a local church’s office. I pointed her down the street, a bit irritated that she had noticed me walking into my house after my morning exercise and had had invaded my space at 7:30 a.m. — especially since I had a houseful of company still asleep. I recognized her as someone I had given $30 to the previous summer based on a sad story about trying to get home to Mississippi. Later, my houseguests were walking their dog. They said the woman was in the middle of the street yelling at a neighbor who had refused to help: “Merry (expletive) Christmas To You, Too!”

I wish I had what would have been a third chance to help her. Maybe she would have just spent the money on booze or drugs. No matter. It is my decision to provide the money, and her decision on how she uses it.

Johnny Cash once said, something to the effect of, “When I was bad, I wasn’t all that bad. When I was good, I wasn’t all that good.” I know how he feels most days. Like most folks else, I hope I get a second chance to do better in the New Year. Like everyone else, I am sure I will again fall short.
Originally published January 10, 2010

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