What a Little Old Lady Taught Me About Marriage

What Will You Do With that Second Chance?

Our power was out. So was everyone else’s due to a storm. It had been out for days and now we were out of food.

We drove 20 minutes and stopped at the first diner that had lights on and cars in the parking lot.

It was a 20-minute wait for breakfast. The waiting area was standing room only and full of people who don’t usually eat at diners.

We finally sat down. We finally ate. We eventually left.

When we got to the car, my kid realized she’d left her favorite ball cap on the table. I ran back in to get it, but I didn’t get far. Getting through the crowded waiting area was like getting through a Wipe Out obstacle course. And coming my way was a little old lady with a cane. She was bent over and shuffling her feet in that unsteady way that makes one think that she might fall and break her hip at any moment. She had just enough of a gap between waiting patrons to shuffle forward.

It would have been kind for me to step to the side and wait for her to pass.

And I considered doing this. Really, I did. But this would have required me to wait for a very, very, very long time. She just wasn’t moving very quickly, you know? My kid and my husband were waiting outside in a running car, and every minute I stood and waited was a minute that the waitress could be giving my kid’s ball cap to someone else.

It was my kid’s favorite ball cap. I believe I told you that.

So I attempted to gently inch past the little old lady.

I couldn’t quite get past her without bumping against her. She looked up. She might have been annoyed. She might have been surprised. She might have been scared. I really don’t know. I don’t know because I inched past her so quickly that I never looked at her face.

I felt instantly guilty, but I consoled myself, “I’m doing a favor for my kid. Sometimes in order to make one person happy, another person ends up unhappy. That’s the way life is.”

This did not help one bit. It didn’t help because I knew it wasn’t true. So I promised myself that, were I ever to have to get through a crowded diner again, I would step aside if a little old lady were coming my way. I promised myself that I would do this no matter what the emergency was. I would even do it if I was about to pee my pants.

I got the ball cap and then turned to leave. Now the old lady was attempting to walk down five cement steps that separated the diner from the parking lot. She couldn’t quite reach the railing and her cane didn’t quite reach the step below.

It didn’t look good.

“Would you like some help?” I asked.

She didn’t respond.

I assumed she remembered me from before and was probably thinking, “That woman is going to push me down the steps just to get me out of her way.”

I slowed my pace. I got in front of her. I held out my hand. She reached out for my hand. She took it. She looked up. She smiled. Soon I could feel her shifting her body weight. Now I was supporting her. She was steady. She tightened her grip, curling her fingers around my palm. She walked down the steps.

She thanked me. I told her it was nothing.

I got in the car and I handed the hat to my kid. My kid said, “Mommy, if you had done that at my school, you would have gotten a bucket filler award.”

I thought about telling her that I didn’t deserve an award because as helpful as I’d been when I’d helped the lady on the steps, I’d been just as unhelpful earlier when she was inside the restaurant.

But then I realized that I’d gotten a second chance—a chance to live up to my potential and be the person I know I can be. I could have just as easily blown my second chance as I’d blown the first one.

At least I had learned from the first mistake. By doing so, I didn’t commit a second one.

It’s my belief that this sort of thing happens all the time in marriage and in life. We mess up somehow. Maybe we are too critical or we lose our temper. Maybe we talk when we should be listening. Maybe we leave dishes in the sink. Maybe we shrink our spouse’s favorite sweater.

Maybe we drink the last beer.

Whatever it is, we do something that we have been trying not to do.

And we feel like a failure.

Then life gives us a second chance. We have another chance to positive, to not lose our temper, to listen, to wash the dishes or to offer that last beer to our spouse.

Sometimes we take that second chance and we shine.

Other times, however, we don’t even notice the second chance has been handed to us.

Still other times we notice, but we decide to screw up almost on purpose, and we do this out of anger.

It’s my belief that the difference lies in forgiveness—forgiveness of ourselves.  If we can learn how to forgive ourselves for screwing up the first time, we’ll be a lot more likely to notice those second chances and to make the most of them. Rather than telling ourselves, “I’m always such a bad listener” or “I’m always so critical of my spouse,” we can instead say, “This is an opportunity for me to listen. Right now I have a second chance to do this right. I’m going to be the person I want to be—right now.”

Or am I reading too much into this?

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