Second Chances

Every day in every part of the world, there are things that happen that end happily, with great relief, or end with devastating sadness and overwhelming grief. A child chasing a ball, steps out from behind a parked car, and narrowly misses being hit by a bus when the driver, catching something out of the corner of his eye, manages to hit the brakes, just in time. A toddler left unattended for just a few moments opens the back door and falls into the family pool, drowning, while his parents, believing their son was sleeping in his room, are making love. Horrors in Iowa occur simultaneously with laughter in Mexico City. Chance does not favor race, and tragedy waits in the shadows for innocent victims. There is no possibility of understanding how this works, other than an acceptance of the randomness of the universe. To think that good deserving people are spared, is proven false every moment. Certainly we can lessen the risk of loss with safeguards and foresight, but even then darkness has a way of finding many of us, and wreaking havoc. Child molesters win the lottery, while good honest people are robbed at knife point.

Secluded and tucked away at the back end of the mountain Town of Grand Lake, Colorado, the Lemmon Lodge was the perfect place to spend our last day of summer vacation. We were on our way home from Yellowstone where we spent four nights camped in a conversion van. Cramped and without any amenities, the van was still quite comfortable and since we were still young, it was a great adventure for Judy and I, and our three year old son, Matthew.

We were lucky to find a cabin available at the lodge, as someone had just cancelled. Typically, they are booked well in advance, and with good reason. The Town of Grand Lake is an old and textured community that sits adjacent to the deepest lake in Colorado. At 265 feet deep, this large lake is a very rich blue, and astoundingly beautiful. The Lemmon Lodge sits along the lake’s edge and has a point which is where the inlet waters from Rocky Mountain National Park enter Grand Lake. At the right time of the year, this inlet makes for very good trout fishing and much to my delight; the fishing was said to be excellent when we checked in mid afternoon.

Matt was a happy child who was great fun to be around. Precocious and intelligent, he was the joy of our life, and every second spent with him was affirming and wonderful. Like most good parents, our world revolved around him. The cabin we rented was rustic and old, and it was a relief to have a real bed and our own bathroom. It was a perfect summer afternoon when we finished exploring and Judy said she was going to lay down and read while Matt and I fished. I remember how excited I was to rush to the inlet and I quickly set up my rod and told Matt to stay next to me and help me fish.

The fishing was fabulous. I have gone entire summers without catching a nice trout, but on that day, in that place, I was experiencing magic. Matt was excited as I pulled in my first fish, and he had a hand on reeling in the second large fish. Then, like a 3 year old, he quickly grew bored, and walked around; staying close to me so I could keep an eye on him. The problem was, I didn’t do a particularly good job and after a while I noticed that he was no longer within eye sight. Looking around it was clear that he was gone. My God, how long had it been since I actually looked up to make sure he was there. In the instant that I realized that he was missing, I went into a mind numbing panic.

Rushing to our cabin, and finding that he was not there, I drew Judy into her own panic and hysteria. “Matt, Matt, Matt”, I yelled, as I looked everywhere. Going from one end of the property to the other, no one remembered seeing my son and soon my panic turned to disbelief. This was like a very bad dream, except it was really happening and I could not awaken, and make it go away.

Not knowing where else to look, I forced myself to walk the short boat dock, looking in the water for my sweet son. At that point in time I think there was a reasonable chance that Matt was either dead and floating in the water somewhere, or he was abducted. Leaving the dock, I continued to call his name. Judy was at other parts of the property continuing her own frantic search. By now we were thirty minutes into looking for him and I suppose our next move would have been to alert the authorities, but then I saw my boy casually walking down a hill, not far from me.

I yelled to Judy that I found him and rushed to Matt who explained that some kid wanted to show him his cabin. I was shaking when I hugged him and explained to him why he can’t ever leave our side without telling us.

There is no doubt that I was completely at fault. I knew it right away, and it gnawed at my heart and soul every second I was looking for him. I don’t know why I was given a second chance that day. I have thanked God a million times, but I know too that other deserving parents have their hearts ripped out in similar circumstances. All that I could do is become a more diligent father, and I have fiercely protected Matt, our only child, at every turn.

I don’t know what my life would look like if chance and circumstance had punished me. I marvel at parents who live on after they have lost a child, although I am certain they are never the same. Considering that it was I who was totally responsible for Matt wandering off, I am reasonably certain I never would have forgiven myself, and it probably would have resulted in losing my wife, with whom I just celebrated our 41st anniversary. I think I would have lost myself too. Perhaps I would have joined the legion of broken souls who reside under bridges, drinking the pain away.

So I continue to give thanks, protective of my son, now an adult, while remaining on guard and hoping that I can continue to find favor in this lifetime.

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62 thoughts on “Second Chances

  1. I don’t know if my Dad ever had the same experience but I know that he is as fiercely protective of me now as he ever was when I was little, but neither he nor Mum let me realise it at a time when it would have cramped my growth. Due to my illness I am learning more and more about them and my early life, as I am living with them for a while. I feel very lucky they are still protecting me and for the chance to spend more time with them.

    All that is waffle! (Sorry) I loved your story Mike. I’m sure it will bring out a lot of emotion from your readers!

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    • Thank you Katherine. Matt has grown into quite a fine man and is more accomplished and brilliant than I was at his age, or any other for that matter. We are very close, he is my best friend, and today is his birthday. I am a lucky man to have him as a son, and tell your parents they did a cracker job (trying to learn your lingo…..hope that is correct) with you.

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  2. Perhaps this event in your life Matt built your stronger commitment and closeness to your son. For every negative there must be a positive, somewhere. Beautifully written my friend, peace to you and thank you for sharing.

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  3. This is a riveting story. Initially I was giving it a cursory glance as I filtered through my email inbox, but your words caught my attention. I ached with you as you looked for your son. Well written.

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  4. I’m hugely relieved it turned out the way it did, what a gripping tale. To have people who love you as you love your son is a precious thing. It can be difficult to get the balance right between being protective and allowing your children freedom, but your devotion to your family is a wonderful thing.

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  5. Good story Mike! I’m glad that had a good ending. I can just imagine how desperate you might have been while the boy was missing. That experience as much as terrible it was will make you even stronger and love that child even more.
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  6. Reading your post provides me with hope that there are still good people in this world. Your story was beautiful but more so is the insight into your soul. Your family is indeed blessed, if you are religious, or karma if you are not! Seriously, working with individuals who only have people who want to control them through every conceivable method, it is refreshing to hear of others who only what to uplift and love those around them.

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    • I am giving you a cyber blush. I am not religious, but I do subscribe to karma and energy. Still, there is an undeniable randomness that is confounding. I too have worked with the kind of people you are working with (though only in passing as an intake worker) and I salute you, and feel for you. Your comment has weight, and I thank you very much.

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  7. An extremely well written and gripping post Mike. Happy Birthday to Matthew, and a very Happy 41st to you and Judy. Wishing the three of you many, many more birthdays and many, many more anniversaries!

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  8. My parents were, and still are, quite over protective. I once got “lost” in a Department Store, but according to Mom, I was only a few feet away from them looking at some snow globes behind a glass. Dad told me he panicked because I had moved away from him and he did not notice. They started calling out my name, but I honestly don’t remember any of this. How could I, I was only 3. Then Mom spotted me just a few feet away. I was mesmerized by the globes, just smiling away at them. Nonetheless, my folks were terrified. They thought someone had taken me away. I imagine I would go crazy if I had a kid and it suddenly disappeared.
    Great post!
    P.S.
    Matt is a handsome guy. 🙂

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  9. You had never mentioned this before… Mike, that was so pivotal in your life! Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. I feel quite humbled for the moment. I’ve never had an experience anything like that.

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    • Our prior conversations just didn’t get around to this. It was much worse than I think the story conveyed, and it was truly a second chance because as edgy as I have always been, there would have been no way back from losing him. Not for me. Thanks for reading that, eh.

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  10. I am so glad Matt was not hurt. i guess we could tell people we love them more often while they are still with us.
    not only tell them but also putting an effort into showing it as well as saying it.
    i would guess it is something you already do (judging from your posts)

    I do but I still think I should do it more often.

    Perfect love my friend

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    • Thanks. Just got back from lunch with matt who is now 33. Trust me, not a day goes by that I don’t tell him I love him. You are right on the mark here. Squeeze the moment.

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  11. Like other readers before me I was dreading a terrible ending. I had three instances when I temporarily ‘lost’ my son and they were the most terrifying and panic-stricken moments of my life. Fortunately he too has grown into a son to be proud of. So glad fate was on your side that day Mike.

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  12. Ah Mike, what a wonderful ending. I was terrified for you!

    When my son was three we went with the family we considered our best friends to an ice cream festival. It took place in a conservation area along side a river.

    We took the boys, one 3 and one 4, to the small playground there and us 4 parents ranged around all four sides, watching them. One moment they were there, the next they were gone.

    It was a frantic time looking for them. We finally found them standing on the side of the river, throwing in stones half the size of their head.

    When I was pregnant with my daughter we discovered it was twins only when I lost one.

    I too count my blessings and thank the Powers That Be for second chances. Thank you for sharing.

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  13. At first I thought that you had another son that I wasn’t aware of, and it went horribly wrong. I am so glad to find out it was the son that you just spoke about. When I was a teenager, we were at a family picnic and I left the family softball game to head back to the picnic area. My dad didn’t know that I was doing that, and I guess everyone went frantically looking for me. My dad even sprained his ankle. They eventually found me, but had searched for a while. On my oldest sons second birthday (I always think of it as his first, but he wouldn’t have been walking so well yet), I lost him in Toys R Us. It was the worst feeling ever. They locked down the store as I ran out into the parking lot and back inside. He was found about 5 (seemed at least 10 min, but it’s amazing what much searching you can do in 5) minutes later, playing on the little tykes playground display that they had inside. That was the longest 5 minutes of my life. Your search took quite a bit longer.

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  14. thank God for second chances ~ i am so very glad that story turned out well, i was preparing for the worst. once again i must say you are gifted with the written word, i’m really looking forward to reading more and more of your posts

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    • Hopefully I can find the inspiration to do more writing. I fear I am inherently lazy, and as such photos allow me to speak without very much effort.
      Thank God for second chances is right. We just enjoyed lunch on Saturday with my beautiful and intelligent son who is now 33.
      This again is a gracious comment and I thank you very much.

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