A Man of Second Chances

The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton included the following confession in one of his famous prayers:

I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself . . . .



Me, neither, especially the last part. If you want to know the truth about me, best ask somebody else. But one thing I have learned over the years is that I’m an optimist, occasionally to the point of foolishness. How I know this doesn’t matter. I just know.

At 6:20 this morning I woke up ahead of the alarm. This was a good waking, not the wretched sort when you would pay a $100 or sell one of your nostrils for just one more hour of sleep before heading off to work or chores. I was fresh, mulling over the fine possibilities on the horizon.

Before my twenty minutes of prayer, I listened to The Writer’s Almanac podcast, which concluded with a poem by Rita Dove entitled “Dawn Revisited.” The first lines had me:

Imagine you wake up

with a second chance

Heck, yeah! I believe in second chances, endless chances. (I would like to share the entire poem, but copyright blah blah blah.) The following made my soul’s lungs fill with new air:

The whole sky is yours

to write on, blown open

to a blank page. Come on,

shake a leg!

Preach it, Rita! Every once in a miraculous while, my spirit’s stirring converges with a friend’s innocent remark or an adagio or a poem. As soon as I finished pray-meditating, I actually wanted to “shake a leg,” and here a voice visited with encouragement: “Come on!”

The poet spoke about three hours ago, and I’m still rolling. Afternoon can be a slog because old wounds and griefs sometimes visit; breathing gets leaden. My past has strong hands, which it uses to grab my throat and back me up against a cinderblock wall. “Listen, little bitch,” the past says, “you’re not going anywhere.” It squeezes harder: “Just try to heal up and move on, punk!”


Cold, bright day. A new blue page ready for words.

Sometimes, but not today. Sadly, I’m not a fighter, so I won’t be telling the old hurts to “go pound salt.” A story is told about Mahatma Gandhi being confronted by an angry man threatening violence against him. Gandhi embraced the man, who collapsed in tears. I’m no Gandhi, but this is my way. Today, if the past intrudes, I’ll kiss its lumpy head and say, “Not today. I’ll take care of you, but you’re not going to choke me.” In other words, I’ll breathe and keep shaking a leg.

Such mindfulness and discipline take a lot of energy. Still, the sun is bright, the sky is clear, and I have hope. Wednesday, February 25th is a second chance. Actually, I’ve lost count of what chance this day is. Above my desk at the church I have a drawing of a bald man sitting in meditation (in Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers by Yushi Nomura). The caption in calligraphy goes,

Abba Poeman said about Abba Pior

that every single day he made a fresh beginning.

What luck! This morning must be my millionth chance, since I often start over a couple times during my waking hours. The present can be better than the past.

So, goodbye for now. I need to go write on the sky.

13 thoughts on “A Man of Second Chances

  1. I read that poem this morning — I get the email version of The Writer’s Almanac. It made me feel the same way. Amen, brother! Here’s to new beginnings and as many second chances as it takes to get us through.

  2. This made me smile 🙂 Thankful, too, that each day is a second chance…and that most days I can recognize it as such!!! Love reading your blog!!!!!!!

  3. Thank you for this. Reading it was truly a gift of the very best kind.
    Sitting in the Atlanta airport, homeward bound, and looking forward to reading more of your words on my Kindle during the flight.

    • Good gravy, am I ever behind on reading and staying in touch. I imagine by now you’re fully recuperated from your trip. Glad you can concentrate enough to read during a flight. I spend all the time being nerved up. I’m going to have to find some mighty fine drug to simmer me down. Peace, John

      • I have to use flying time as “me time” or I’ll lose my mind. It feels like I’m on planes more than not these days. (Landed back in Toronto at 6:33 am today; flying to Atlanta at 8:55 pm tonight…)

  4. You’re off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so GET ON YOUR WAY! — Dr. Seuss
    J reads it to me every night. Oh! The Places You’ll Go is my very favorite prayer. A prayer for his future and mine.

    • A prayer that offers up a chuckle! You’re right . . . it is a prayer. Hope you’re off to some great places today, sister. Peace, John

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