When I was 17, I was a nose away from joining the Air Force. What stopped me was my dad telling me they wouldn’t let me paint my nails.
I wonder where I’d be today if I did what I usually do and didn’t listen to him. I have an idea, of course. The 9/11 attacks happened right after this conversation and most likely, I would’ve been deployed.
I come from a line of military service. My mom’s dad met my grandma as an MP stationed in Germany. My other grandpa served in the Air Force when it was the Army Air Corps. My dad was stationed in Viet Nam when he enlisted in the Air Force.
I was thinking about fate the other day. I was thinking about how one move, one seemingly non-consequential choice to turn left instead of right or say hi instead of passing by someone can alter the course of life forever.
This is not a debate between free will and predestination. I’m not here to argue whether we have the power to make the choice to enlist in the military or whether we were predestined to do so. I’m here to talk about what happens when we leave 5 minutes later than usual and find out we’ve just missed being in a car accident.
This happened to the kids and me last Thursday. It was meet-the-teacher night. Jack was dressed to the 9s. Tyler was fed and sleeping, and Elise couldn’t wait for me to meet her 3rd grade teacher. I was packing a bottle and a diaper bad, trying to find my phone and the dog so I could lock her up and Jack decided he needed his shoes double-knotted.
If it weren’t for the fact that I understand a little more about his OCD/ADHD/ODD behaviors, I would’ve told him his shoes were fine and we were leaving. I knew that wouldn’t work. I knew I could take a minute and knot them or spend the next 15 minutes trying to go to a happy place in my head while he was in a full-blown rage.
I put down the baby, the diaper bag, spilled the bottle, got a towel and cleaned that up, knotted Jack’s shoes, put the dog away, locked the door and away we went.
On the way to the school, we slowed to a stop in traffic. At first, I blamed it on the fair even though fair traffic usually started much further up the road.
Then I noticed an ambulance as we inched forward. Eventually, cars began to turn off the state route onto side streets to get around the deputies directing traffic, but the school was less than a minute in front of us, so we stayed put.
When the last car in front of us re re-routed, the kids and I saw a pile of metal crushed next to the highway on-ramp. A State Trooper came up to the window and apologized. He said we would have to find a way around the accident because a small boy was trapped inside one of the cars and they were working to get him out.
As he stopped traffic to let us on the highway, it occurred to me that had Jack not asked for help, had I ignored him and made him get in the car, had I not spilled Tyler’s bottle and stopped to clean it up, it could very well have been us in that accident.
I have no idea when it happened, but it couldn’t have been very long before we got there. The ironic part is there’s no way of knowing when fate sets into motion a chain of events that leads to safety or despair. And, if you think about it too long, you’d be scared to death to live.
Elise was very upset that we were running late for open house by that point. I told her it was a good thing we were. If we left any sooner, like we were supposed to, it might have been us in that accident.
Incidentally, we made it in time to meet teachers. As far as I know, everyone survived the accident and the boy made it out ok.
It makes me wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t cared so much about painting my nails. I might have been a decorated fighter pilot. I might have died in Iraq.
What I do know is the might haves and maybes will eat you alive if you let them. That’s why it’s so important to grab the here and now and do with it what we can. We can’t know what fate has in store for us. We can only know, when we cross its path, that it’s where we’re meant to be.