A Meditation on Second Chances

I’ve often written stories in which my principal characters are offered a second chance to get it right. Either a new lover after a relationship went south, a new job after being fired from the previous one, or even a new world after the first one was destroyed. I’ve had all of the above second  chances in my life, more or less. Being struck out after only the first miss has been anathema to me—it’s not quite baseball, or cricket, I figure. Recently, I got an opportunity to explore this second chance option even deeper for myself.

Three months ago, on the night of my 63rd birthday, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while ascending the stairs at home. I wasn’t actually an accident waiting to happen: at the time of the incident I was doing vigorous cardio at the gym three times a week, had low cholesterol and normal blood pressure and my BMI was 23.5. But I was felled and lay technically dead for about six minutes until the paramedics revived me with electroshock and rib crushing first aid. I have no recollection of the next seven days, for I was on heavy drugs in the intensive care unit. However, I am supposed to have carried out intelligent conversations and written perfectly composed letters during those lost days—“Some drugs!” is all I can say. Then came the slow road back after being discharged: lots more (different) drugs, a progressive return to physical exercise, a limited return to work,cardiologists, ECGs, Holter monitors, stress tests, giving lots of blood samples until veins stopped offering any more, and everyone around me discreetly wondering, “When is it going to happen again?”The great unknown “when” keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it? All the cardiologists could offer was that I had won a lottery on life—the survival rate for this kind of incident (with motor and mental function intact) is about 4%. Okay, this is all good, but now what?

I know that “more of the same” cannot continue. The old life ended on that staircase.But how does one draw up a new one on a blank canvas? Isn’t a life composed one brush stroke at a time until a meaningful and holistic picture emerges? And how does one carve out a brand new life with old tools, because old tools are all I have? It is therefore inevitable that some form of “more of the same” will continue, but something new will have to be tacked on at the end to justify this Lazarus Extension. I’m sure many people at my stage of life (or earlier)have gone through hitting a brick wall like this and have had epiphanies about their next stage in life. But is it only to those who have taken wrong pathways that these second chances occur? Have I been going down the wrong track for 63 friggin’ years? Is it a reminder that the frenetic multi-tasking of the old life, and the grabbing at every opportunity that came my way does not work anymore, and that a gentler, more considered approach is necessary? Or does one do the opposite and grab at more opportunities before the candle—now on its reserve supply of wax— gets snuffed out for good? I’ve seen people do that too.But I was raised to leave more behind in the world than I consumed, so the “go gangbusters and damn the torpedoes” approach doesn’t work for me. There are more questions now than answers, it seems.

Perhaps epiphany creeps in rather than hitting you like a lightning bolt (sorry, St.Paul!). Perhaps you start doing things differently, one brush stroke at a time,either brought about by a changed thinking or by limited motor and mental ability, and you gradually begin to realize that you are now living a different life, painting a different picture.Perhaps a stock-taking is required. I remember my mum used to go through my wardrobe from time to time when I was a kid. “Do you still need this?” “Does this fit you anymore?” “You played with this toy five years ago, and it’s broken now, can we throw it away?” And so with life too, the old life, I mean;do we go through all that we did and throw out things that don’t bring pleasure, value, or meaning anymore? It’s frightening, because some of those redundant practices are comfort blankets, and wrenching them away leaves you vulnerable.

And so, I spend my time these days waiting to be hit, or crept on, by the epiphany, with the something that needs to be tacked on, and I realize that this revelation cannot be forced out. It’s like writing a novel—the story comes when it comes and the waiting can be frustrating. Is this confusion part of the recovery? I haven’t even attempted the stock-taking approach; that sounds like tooth extraction or amputation.

One thing I do know is that I puzzled a lot with the eternal verities during my previous life; it gave me the impetus for the stories I wrote, especially the ones about second chances. It required a lot of travel through dark places of the soul that were painful. I could very well have not bothered—for who reads these days anyway—preferring instead to play another round of golf, watch a mindless movie, or get lost in social media. But a sense of purpose brought me back on each occasion, a sense that time was marching on and that the Master could come at any moment wanting an account of how I had managed my talents. I think He paid me a visit on that fateful night of my birthday and decided to give me a second chance to do a better job than I have done to date. Therefore, I hope that in this next iteration my puzzlement over the human condition will continue, leading to newer and deeper insights. Otherwise, I just as well may not have heeded the call on that staircase to “rise, pick up my bed, and walk again.”

Today, I switched on my laptop and tried to write a story again, my first attempt since the “incident.” Is this the beginning of the next iteration…the second chance?

Season’s greetings, dear readers. Keep your enemies close, and keep your loved ones closer.

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