The day started off well enough, if a little early. Ten or so teenaged girls had slept in tents in the backyard, a noisy gaggle that kept me wondering all night long if our neighbors were fuming. But with the coming dawn, it didn’t seem to matter so much. They were quiet at last. My husband got up for an early flight, and I laced running shoes and went out into the still-dark morning to get in 5 miles as the sun rose. Since I was ahead of schedule, five miles stretched to eight, and I arrived home just as the girls were stirring in the backyard. I was peaceful and ready to seize the summer day.
But that's not how the day played out.
His dark eyes met mine over his laptop. Storm clouds were brewing in those eyes; I was all too familiar with the storms.
“What’s wrong?” I chirped cheerfully, trying desperately to hold on to the morning calm.
“It’s stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. No one is listening at either school. These credits won’t transfer, and I am going to be in college forever.”
They say mothers are only as happy as their unhappiest child.
“Don’t mope. We’ll figure it out. Just don’t mope.” I cannot stand one more tense conversation about academic advising and college transferring, I thought. I’ve devoted more than a lifetime’s share of time to this transfer and this pair of schools. Enough. Just stop talking about it. And quit moping.
“Please can we cut the watermelon? Puhleeze?”
Blue eyes this time, begging cheerfully but begging just the same, my little girl interrupting my internal rant to the academic advisors of two institutions of higher learning.
“No!” I snapped, trying not to notice the shock in her eyes or the tears pooling there. “No, watermelon. For the tenth time this morning, no watermelon and no moping.”
I gathered keys and my youngest son and headed to the gym. My cellphone tucked into a locker, Nick and I went about our gym routine. I didn’t need to be there; I’d already exceeded my workout goals for the day, but I’d promised Nick we’d go, and I was trying to be kind, despite my cranky beginning. After a couple hours, I retrieved my phone and saw that I’d missed 12 text messages.
The first one I read was from my friend and neighbor, “Really bad accident out in front near your house. Silver car and a minivan. Tell me you are all OK.”
I have both a silver car and a minivan. And those kids I left at home after my snappish outburst? My heart raced. They had plans to go to the pool in the silver car by way of that intersection.
I thought about the sharp words.
Please don’t let those words hang heavy forever …
Thankfully, the next few texts were from my daughter. She told me about the accident, said they’d been delayed leaving the house because she’d sent Katie back inside to empty the dishwasher, and they arrived immediately after the crash. She was worried that the little girls had seen way too much. And then she texted again to let me know the road was still closed and to go home the back way because a helicopter had landed across the street.
A do-over, I thought. I get a do-over. I can go home and be kind and gentle. I can erase the ugliness of the morning and begin again. Better this time.
And then I can write a column about how sometimes we see how precious life is and we are lucky enough to get a do-over. That was how I thought this essay would end. But that’s not how it happened.
I returned home to find a very somber group gathered in my kitchen. Lots of kids trying to make sense of the senseless. Names had been assigned to once nameless accident victims. Four teenaged boys. People they all knew. Somebody’s son. News came quickly, the way it is wont to do in a small town. Some rumors, some facts. Some tales ahead of their time. Four boys in very serious condition. Life in the balance.
There is no do-over. Not really. Not ever. That morning was set in stone. Some lives forever changed.
My 7-year-old talked for what seemed like hours that day and the next about the sounds. “There was a crash. A really loud crash and then a boom and another boom. I think that was the van flipping over onto its roof. And then there were sirens; for probably hours there were sirens. And then the helicopter. So many noises. So many scary noises.” You can’t un-hear the noises. And you can’t un-live the moments, any moments.
The sounds. The sights. The sorrow of the people involved and the people who love them. There’s no do-over.
We get one chance to live any given moment. One chance to bless. One chance to choose the better. One chance to love. And then that moment is gone.
There is redemption. There is grace. There is a God in heaven offering hope.
But there are no do-overs. Not really. There is only a choice to make in each moment.
Will we wish we had the moment back?