“There should have been a second chance,” the text said.
*Disclaimer: this will most likely (I hope) be the hardest thing I’ll ever write but I stand behind every word I’m about to type. Please feel free to skip this one if you’re not prepared to read something sad, I understand.
Those words are forever ingrained in my brain as they are the result of a situation that is indelible in and of itself.
I’ve been ruminating on how to piece my thoughts together for a while now, not wanting to write in haste so as to give myself space and time to grasp, although impossible, the tragic endings of two of my co-workers.
See, there comes a time in our life when we’re faced with this certain truth: it’s a privilege to grow old.
For my two dear co-workers and their teenage son, this privilege escapes them.
I got a text the first week of September from a former colleague exactly two weeks after I walked out. They told me that a horrific and fatal car accident happened.
My brain was slow to process the text. In my hurriedness, I thought it said that my old co-workers’ son had died in a car accident the night before. I replied as fast as I could that I would reach out to her (the wife, as she had been a cubemate for a solid two years) and offer my condolences.
In the meantime, I forwarded the text to my husband and called him immediately after I caught my breath.
What I didn’t yet know was the true depth of the shock.
As I was trying to process what I had just read, especially as a mother (since that’s absolutely the worst possible nightmare), I was telling him that I was going to reach out and be there for her, when he stopped me short.
“All three of them are gone, honey”
I re-read the text. And it hit me 100x harder once my brain understood the direness of what had happened.
I’ve been repeating that ever since I got the news. She was the last person I said goodbye to as I walked away from my cubicle. And he was someone I chit-chatted with every single time I crossed him in the hallway. And now, they’re gone.
They were honestly the happiest-go-lucky individuals I’ve ever had the chance to meet. Full of life, laughter, and curiosity. If you were to ask anyone who knew her, what they most remember, I’m pretty certain they would say her jolliness and laughter. My goodness, how she laughed at every chance she could.
So, in the following days, I reached out to other former colleagues to cry together about the news. And that’s when I got that defining text back: “There should have been a second chance“. Words I shall never forget.
I’m not here to tell you about their lives, or what happened that fateful night, as I want to respect and honor their memory. They are more than just a news story or a forwarded article. They were real and good people.
The reason why I’m writing this is not to remind you that life is short. Or that tomorrow is not guaranteed.
For someone that thinks of death every day (while morbid, I do adhere to the Stoic life philosophy), I’m keenly aware of how things can swiftly change from one day to the next, so I won’t be preachy or cliched about it.
Instead, what I want you to take away from this newsletter if you’ve gotten this far, is that second chances are hard to come by.
I went through each what-if scenario in my head the days after I got the news. What-if this and what-if that. Useless exercise because it doesn’t help anyone. Not me, and certainly not them.
And as we’re all human, when something like this happens, we look inward at our own life, and we take an inventory of all the things we’re grateful for.
For the breath, we still have, because they don’t, and the experiences we still get to look forward to, because they don’t.
And also for the choices we still have, because they don’t.
Their story, sadly, ended.
But as long as we’re continuing to write ours, we need to ALWAYS keep in mind that whatever it is we’re putting off, it’s not waiting for us.
Here’s an example from my own life. When I got the news that I got accepted into the Master’s program in the Netherlands, the majority of the people had these reactions:
“It starts in 2 MONTHS?!”
“You’re CRAZY. You’re gonna sell your house, take your kid there, and quit your job now?!”
“Why don’t you apply next year so you have some time to get things sorted out?”
“But you have EVERYTHING, why are you going there?!”
And so on.
What most people didn’t get is that this isn’t a “let’s put it off for tomorrow” or “oh they’re going to wait for me to decide” kind of a decision. There won’t be a second chance. Either I say yes and go, or I stand weeping in regret at the adventure I just missed out on.
I didn’t want to miss out on it, ESPECIALLY because I knew it wouldn’t come around a second time.
WHO KNOWS where I would have been a year from now that would have prevented me from doing something like this. I didn’t want to risk this opportunity.
Let’s just be honest for a second. We all go about our days saying things such as:
“Another job will present itself, I don’t think I’ll apply to this one”
“I can wait another year here, even though I’m miserable, it’s just not the right moment to make a move”
“I don’t have time right now to learn that skill, maybe next year when my kid is older”
And so on. We automatically make such excuses because we either really believe that there’s still time to act, or we’re just trying to protect ourselves from a scary unknown.
But what’s scarier than not having a second chance? NOTHING.
Failing is not scarier.
A bruised ego is not scarier.
Feeling stupid is not scarier.
Potentially losing time or money is not scarier.
So why are we all acting as if that’s the scary part? Why do we let fear direct our thoughts in those superficial directions when there’s really only one thing that’s terrifying?
While I weep and feel every possible emotion for this tragedy, and fully embrace the fact that freak accidents can happen to anyone, I also understand (now more than ever) that putting something off to tomorrow is directly related to the hope that there will be a second chance to accomplish that thing. When in reality, all we have is one chance.
And that’s today.
I hope you’re inspired and that you’re going to act upon that thing you’ve been thinking of all this time.
Because you owe it to yourself.