(Originally published on June 1, 2011.)
Maybe it’s my recent 40th birthday. Or it could be that I keep forgetting to do something I’ve been promising my wife for weeks. In any case, I’ve been thinking about second chances lately and how much I sometimes feel like a character from my own 2008 novel, Recovering Charles.
The book is set in New Orleans just as Hurricane Katrina hits in August 2005. It’s the story of Luke, whose estranged father, living in New Orleans, goes missing during the storm.
Luke and his father, Charles, hadn’t spoken for nearly two years. They’d quit speaking to one another after Charles made one too many bad decisions.
After a prodding phone call by one of Charles’ friends, also living in New Orleans, Luke makes his way to the beaten city to try to find his missing father. Not only does Luke not know where his father is, but he doesn’t have any idea what his father has become.
Luke thinks he is searching for a man who always needed money or some other favor, but he might also be looking for the loving father who left him years before.
Charles stopped being that father when he gave in to his demons and, before long, Luke have up on him. In time, Charles drifted away and stopped bothering his son.
Sadly it’s a common storyline, both in literature and life.
All but the very best of us hold grudges, don’t we? We righteously banish ex-spouses, estranged family members, friends who betray us and other unpleasant people to an exile enforced by averted eyes and caller ID. As long as we tell ourselves that — one day — we will make things right, we can justify our behavior as punishment for what we’ve suffered.
In the novel, the possibility that Charles might be dead shakes Luke’s self-righteousness. Without an “I’m sorry, son” there could be no “I forgive you, Dad.”
Luke begins to believe that Charles was looking for a second chance, and his search for his father takes on new urgency as he realizes that he might just want to give him one.
So, who really deserves a second chance?
Where is the threshold of forgiveness?
When one of my kids does something wrong, I’m quick to explain that they can make it right and get a clean slate. Children surely deserve second chances as they learn about consequences.
What about a cheating spouse?
An abusive father?
A vindictive lawyer?
The drunk driver who kills a loved one?
Do any of them deserve a second chance?
Do all of them?
I know someone on the receiving end of each of those situations. And, in each case, they forgave. None of the offenses could be undone, but the bitterness and hatred dissolved once the offended decided to offer a second chance.
I also know people who proudly lug around grudges collected over a lifetime. You probably do, too.
When they let one go, it’s often just to make room for another. They are slow to give out second chances because they know it means they have to quit keeping score.
When I started writing Recovering Charles, I didn’t know exactly how it would end. Somehow, thankfully, Luke led me through the story and dictated its conclusion.
I learned a lot about myself as “what will he do next” began to reflect “what would I do.”
Years later, I’m still not sure that Luke and I are all that similar, but I do know that I’ve learned to believe in second chances. I plan to give as many as I can.
I sure hope to get a few, too.
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(Jason Wright is a New York Times bestselling author, columnist and speaker. Subscribe to his weekly columns, join him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. His latest book, The James Miracle, is available from Amazon and BN.)
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