I wonder how many of us ever get our lives right first time round? And I wonder if there only ever is a first time round. But that’s a deep spiritual question which I don’t want to get into. Most of us have enough things on our plates without worrying about whether or not this really is our only slot. No chance of a remake or retrial or repeated exam. No Take Twos.
It’s a wet, gloomy day here in Kraków. My daughter is back at university in London, my estranged philosopher-hubby is who knows where (probably asleep in his dishevelled flat), and Bruno the mad Malinois is in his basket by my side. I’m trying not to be too affected by the miserable grey sky and wet drooping autumn vines that hang tremulously down the garden wall. I keep looking out of the window instead of at my laptop screen. Thinking about second chances. Take Twos in life.
Of course sometimes we really do get second chances, right? I got a second chance at marriage after my first one went awry. A second chance that lasted all of 21 years, which isn’t bad. With some wonderful memories I can now cherish. But are memories enough?
I got a second chance at motherhood, after my doctor told me I probably wouldn’t be able to have any more children, following complications after the birth of my first baby. And then a third chance came along, the most unexpected one of all. Three children, all now grown up, all flown the nest, all moulded into my heart with yet more memories to cherish as I gaze out of my kitchen window at the damp, drooping colours of autumn.
If we really were given the option of second chances in the past, as in changing decisions already made and actions already taken, would we opt for those second chances? Because if we did, even in little ways, then the ensuing changes would result in huge repercussions in the present. Would life have been better if we’d done this or that; if we’d married another person instead of the one we ended up marrying; if we’d stayed in our former homeland because life was somehow easier and cosier there; if we’d studied another subject at university, if we’d chosen another career …
If we were miraculously allowed to make those changes, perhaps by the appearance of some benevolent God who actually spoke to us, saying, Okay kiddo, I’m feeling benevolent today. I grant you permission to make a couple of changes in your past. Go for it!
Would we really go for it?
Hmm. So, let’s say I decided to go for it. Thanks, oh benevolent God, I say aloud to the invisible space in front of me. Or perhaps He’s lurking somewhere out there in the garden. Perhaps He likes the rain. After all, he created it, right?
So. I decide to make a few changes to the past. I study English instead of Music. Much wiser career choice. I go to a regular university rather than a claustrophobic conservatoire full of intense, weirdo musicians. (The oboe teacher twice my age who asked me out to a concert, bought me a drink in the interval, looked at me twitchily and and then disappeared during the interval and never came back, was a particular case in point.) I get a job in … let’s say publishing. I don’t ever marry Hubby No 1 because I don’t end up in the same town where we met. So I don’t end up having my first two children. And I don’t end up going to Poland and meeting Hubby No 2 and having sprog No 3. But I write a bestseller which is snapped up by the editor with whom I work; I fall in love with said editor, who becomes not my first husband, not my second husband, but my only husband. Bliss! Just one husband for one life! (I mean – who needs two?) He is my True Love. My Life’s Partner. And we have several wonderful children who grow up into sensible, fulfilled adults who live in England’s green and pleasant land, scattered about in various luxurious locations. Perhaps one grown-up child lives near the white cliffs of Dover, another in the vibrant hubbub of London, where Editor-Hubby and I also dwell; another up in the wilds of Yorkshire, giving me a good excuse every now and then to visit my old Benedictine flame in his turreted monastery, tucked away in those undulating hills and valleys of Wuthering Heights county …
And we all live happily ever after.
But hang on a minute … what about my three real children? I can’t just wish them out of existence! What about the deep, supportive friendship I cherish with real Hubby No 1? What about the close bond I’ve managed to maintain with real Hubby No 2; a bond too strong to be broken by a mere split-up? What about my Mad Malinois, who drives not only himself mad? (He’s fallen asleep, bless him – having a break from following me everywhere and nudging my thigh as soon as I sit back down, those huge eyes imploring: Can we play with that stick again, please?)
All in all, I reckon that second chances are great, as long as they’re taken now. It’s nice to dream from time to time about what might have been; to have our if only moments. But changing even the tiniest detail of our past could result in repercussions in the present that we can’t even fathom. I mean … what if that seemingly perfect editor I married turned out to be a psychopath? What if he took a large kitchen knife out of the drawer one wet autumnal morning, unable to control his moods on dark dreary days, and, just as I was asking him if he’d like a cuppa, what if he plunged the dagger into my heart? If I’d died from knife wounds back then, where would my future be now? My future husbands, my future children, my crazy, at times frustrating, at times amazing life … where would my novel, Once Upon a Thousand Hills be?
Actually, thanks for the offer of a second chance, oh benevolent God, but I think I’ll take a rain check.