The Double Knots of Fate: How a Shoelace Might Have Saved our Lives

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.

A Letter to Myself at 16: To Whom it May Concern

Philosophy: What’s coming will come and life goes on…even if it’s the hard way.

I know you’re a nose away from signing the papers, but you’re not going to do it. In a year, or so, you’ll thank your lucky stars your dad told you the Air Force won’t let you paint your nails. After all, that’s really what kept you away…in early 2001. Nail polish kept you from being deployed to the Iraq war.

You’re running your heart out now, but you won’t take the offer to run for Walsh College. You’ll think back when you’re 26 and wish you had, but you won’t lose sleep over it.

You will run in the Akron Marathon one day. You’ll see the coach, even in the thousands of people running, that told you you would never have it in you to finish road races. You’ll remember that conversation in 7th grade and you’ll dig deep to pass her.

When you do, that’s what will give you the last wind you need to cross the finish line. You’ll also lose two toenails because of it. A small price to pay.

A smooth-talking professor will pull you aside and tell you you have a gift for Philosophy. He won’t tell you how impractical it is. Neither will your mom. When you ask her why she didn’t force you into business school, she’ll tell you it was because you liked what you were doing. You won’t understand that until you have a daughter.

Your dad knows what it looks like when you jack knife a trailer into the side of his F150. You know that, but you’ll still tell him it was a shopping cart. Even when you’re 35, you’ll wonder why he ever let you drive that thing with a trailer on it.

You’re doing your best to convince yourself you’ll have no problem replacing your first love who just left you for Ashland College. You’ll feel better in the years ahead, but you never will replace him completely, nor should you.

You’ll spend some time hell-bent on proving everyone wrong and living like you know it all. You don’t. But time spent living that way will come in handy later when realize you didn’t know it all, but you were learning most of the things that will get you through the hard times.

Even though you missed the Air Force, you’ll take flying lessons from an arrogant French instructor. He’ll tell you you can’t fly in high heels, so you’ll do it just to prove him wrong.

You’ll pray to die when he teaches stalls and he’ll call you ricochet rabbit because of the way you land. You’ll never get your license, though. You’ll never solo and you’ll wish you had.

When you leave for Texas, turn back around as you drive away. What you see waving to you is what will bring you back home in a year and a half.

Speaking of Texas, you’ll make it through the homesickness. You’ll graduate up at the top, but you won’t stick around to walk across the stage. You won’t regret that either. Oh, and about homesickness, don’t bother crying to your dad about it. He was in Viet Nam.

You’ll fall in love again. When you do, say yes. Even though it falls apart and burns worse than a wrecked semi full of diesel, say yes. You’ll get two of the most precious gifts you’ve ever laid eyes on out of it.

When you lose your grandpas, you’ll find it in you to write again and you’ll find it in you to stand up and deliver the words you owe them. So when your mom and dad ask you to speak, don’t think twice.

When you’re out on your own, doing the work of two people alone, you’ll resent the people and reasons that put you there, for maybe all of five minutes. There isn’t time to dwell on it. You’ll be content for the first time knowing what’s coming is going to come and life goes on.

And do it again. Fall in love, that is. Even though you know you shouldn’t. That time, you won’t break. And, you’ll get to raise a son the hard way because…

despite everything you’ve learned in all the lessons the good Lord gave you in the past 18 years, you’ll still insist on doing things the hard way.

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