This I Believe

Stephanie - Durango, Colorado
Entered on October 19, 2006

I believe in second chances. Look how many we give our presidents. F. Scott Fitzgerald was famously wrong when he said that there are no second acts in America—he just didn’t get his while he was alive.

I work in adult education. We give students who have dropped out of high school a second chance. They earn a GED and move on to even bigger achievements.

My own second chances started as an alienated teenager despairing of finding my place. I saved enough money so I could light out for the territory with Huck. I wanted that all-American fresh start, and I gunned it straight to California.

In Berkeley, Mr. Anderson could have hired a more experienced person, but he took a chance on me, seeing the bright, hard worker before I saw her myself.

John and Helen showed me a happy marriage. Evenings, John puttered in his shop while Helen painted. At 10, we watched the news and ate ice cream. This was how married people behaved—no screaming, no prolonged silences? Maybe the concept of a satisfying marriage wasn’t some myth cooked up by my Home Ec teacher.

My friends and family give me second chances. Once I called a nephew a doofus, but instead of disowning me, my sister forgave my thoughtlessness. I got drunk at a friend’s on New Year’s Eve and threw up all over her shoes. Talk about forgiveness! Amy’s one of those beautiful, lithe, successful creatures, and she certainly didn’t need me as a friend at 14, but she saw past my sloppy immaturity, and that was forty years ago.

My children careen between adulthood and the supreme idiocy of teenagedom. Years ago I yelled at a blood-curdling decibel while my son cowered below me. I saw his terror and vowed never to harm him like that again. He still speaks to me and devours my pesto, so I guess we’re good.

Our younger son is a lover, not a fighter—think Romeo, not Mercutio—but I used to whack him with a wooden spoon until I came to my senses and we burned it, whereupon Dunkie wrote a limerick: “There once was a nasty old spoon/Who we rightly sent off to the moon/If it ever comes back/We’ll give it two cracks/That nasty old wooden spoon.” Today, I get spontaneous hugs, so I smile and thank the cosmos. My husband has loved me through a body that started out zaftig but veered off back in the 80s. He gave me the chance of a lifetime because without him, I would have sunk into my innate Irish pessimism.

Next time that someone drives you nuts, pushes you to the brink, or knocks you on your ass unintentionally, dole out a second chance. Don’t cross them off your list permanently because tomorrow it’ll be you pushing someone you love and respect to the brink. I think I’ve done the world more good than harm, but if not for second chances, who knows?