Motivational and Inspirational Headquarters

RISK OR REGRET

"Get out of the way, slowpoke!" Jack shouted, slamming his fist on the horn. "Get that pile of junk off the road!" He yanked the steering wheel hard to the left and sped past the slower car, the horn blaring as he passed. Darkness closed quickly between the two cars.

Suddenly, blue lights began to flicker in his rear-view mirror. "Oh, GREAT!" he grumbled aloud. "Of all the cars on the highway tonight, I WOULD pass an unmarked police car!"

Pulling over to the curb, he parked under a street lamp and watched anxiously in the mirror while an oversized patrolman unfolded himself from behind the wheel of his car. It seemed to take forever as the policeman stood up beside his car, settled his hat on his closely cropped head, and then adjusted his belt and holster.

Jack was fidgeting impatiently when the big man finally began to amble slowly forward. Jack sat motionless in his seat until a harsh circle of light shone on his lap, then on his face. A sharp tapping on the window prompted him to press the button on his armrest; the glass slid quietly down into the door.

"Good evening, sir. Do you know why I pulled you over?" "Yes sir, officer. I know I was speeding, and I was kind of reckless back there, I guess, but I've got an explanation!" "I'm sure you do, sir. May I see your license and registration?"

While Jack was searching through his wallet, the policeman continued. "You know you were going fifty-eight in a forty-five mile-an-hour zone, don't you?" Jack looked up from his task. "My gosh! I didn't know I was going that fast! You see, I've driven over seven hours to get here and I just got off the highway. My sister called me at work and told me that I needed to come home. They're not expecting our mother to make it through the night; she's got cancer and she's been going downhill for the last six months."

His voice trailed off. "I'm sorry I was speeding; I was just trying to get home before it was too late." The policeman wrote on his clipboard for a moment, then tore off the top sheet and handed it and the license back to Jack. "I'm sorry your mother's not well Mr. Beckman, but you were driving much too fast. I've considered the circumstances, thinking about what I would do if I were in the same situation, and I decided I would only give you a warning ticket this time."

"Thank you, officer! Thank you! I really appreciate that!" "That's all right. Now drive safe; it would really be bad for your family to have to deal with you being in the emergency room at a time like this." "You're right. Thanks again! I'll be more careful." "I hope so. Good night Mister Beckman."

Fifteen minutes later, Jack wheeled his car into the driveway of his boyhood home. As he entered, the old house was quiet except for the soft ticking of the grandfather clock and the old familiar complaints of the floorboards under his feet. His sister Suzie was in the kitchen, making a sandwich.

"Jack! You made it!" she exclaimed, standing to give him a consoling hug. "I was so worried about you driving so far! How was your trip?" "Fine, no problem. Has Bob gotten here yet?" "Yes, he got here about a couple of hours ago, just before midnight. He went to bed a little while ago."

She saw Jack looking at the kitchen table which was piled high with cakes and pies and buckets of fried chicken and plates of cold cuts. "You hungry?" she asked. "Want me to fix you a plate? Some of the ladies from Mom's church brought this food by; it's been a real help! There's even a ham in the refrigerator!" "No thanks, I want to see Mom. How is she?" "She's gone down fast since yesterday, but she's not quite as bad as she was when I phoned you earlier." "Good, I'm glad to hear that! I'll see you in a little bit."

He turned and made his way hurriedly across the living room floor and down the hall to his mother's bedroom. He paused for a moment outside her door. "Mom?" he called, softly, gently pushing the door open. "Mom, it's me, Jack."

He was not prepared for what he saw next. The bedroom looked the same as it had been since the beginning of time. Except for one thing: lying in the middle of the bed, in a circle of pale yellow light, was the frail emaciated form that had once been his mother.

"Mamma!" he cried, rushing to her side. His heart lay frozen in his chest until, at last, she moved, turning her head to see him. "I came to see you, Mamma!" Slowly, she opened her tired, blue eyes; they brightened, and a smile bloomed across her face. "Jackie!" she said weakly, placing a hand on his cheek. "You're here!"

"Yes! I'm here, Mamma." A broad smile formed on his face in spite of the tears that were threatening to escape from his eyes. "I'm here!" "I've been waiting for you; I knew you'd come!" "Yes, Mamma; I came as fast as I could. I had to be with you!" "Thank you, Jackie," she said, patting his cheek lightly. "How are things going with you?"

"I'm okay.... But you don't worry about me. I came here to see how you're doing!" "You know how I'm doing, Jackie; I'm dying. I want to know how YOU are doing. How's that restaurant situation working out?" Jack let out a long sigh. "Same as before. Nancy says I can look into it if I want to, but she doesn't seem to be very enthusiastic about the prospects of me leaving the real estate agency. She says I should be satisfied with what I'm doing now."

"But, how do YOU feel about it?" "Actually, it kind of scares me. I'm pretty well situated at Realty One; I've been with them over sixteen years and I make pretty good money. We have all we need...and most of what we want...."

She fixed her gaze on him. "But what?" she asked, pointedly. Her eyes were old and weary, but they were still sharp enough to see that there was more on his mind than what he was saying.

He shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bed. "But... it's not enough. I'm just not happy with what I'm doing anymore. The money's fine, but the work doesn't satisfy me anymore. Do you know what I mean?"

"Yes," she whispered, closing her eyes and nodding her head in agreement; she knew what he meant. She laid her hand on his and gave it a delicate squeeze as he continued.

"When I first got into real estate, I loved it! I really enjoyed working with people and helping them find the exact house they wanted. I used to love the look in the eyes of a young couple when I handed them the keys to their first new home. It used to be such a thrill!"

"What happened to that thrill?" she whispered from her pillow, eyes still closed, resting. "Nothing changed. Everything stayed the same. I guess that was the real problem. Nothing changed; over the years, my life became a routine. I got good in the business, and I sold more and more houses. After a while those excited expressions didn't seem to have the same effect on me that they used to."

He sat there a moment, his mind wandering off. What happened to the good old days? Slowly, he drifted back to the present and he became aware that his mother was snoring softly. He held her hand a while, marveling at how warm it felt; shouldn't it have been cool?

Rising, gently from the bed, he laid her hand tenderly on her lap and settled into an easy chair that had been placed next to the bed. For the next half-hour, thoughts flowed freely through his mind while he watched his mother's chest rise and fall.

Where had all the years gone? Where had his dreams gone? What could he do to get them back?

"So what are you going to do about it?" she asked, as if there had been no break in the conversation. Jack looked up from his reverie, startled.

"Well... Giovani, the owner of Fratelli's, still wants me to consider coming on as his apprentice. I saw him a couple of weeks ago at the restaurant, and he asked me if I was still considering his offer."

"Are you?" she asked, weakly, almost dreamily.

"I'd really like to learn to be a chef," he said, moving back to her side at the edge of the bed. "You know I've always enjoyed cooking, and I could afford to invest in the restaurant. But, most of the time I feel like it's just a silly, selfish dream.

She reached out until her hand found his, then she gripped his fingers, clutching them firmly. "Jackie, there's nothing selfish about wanting to be happy. If Nancy doesn't object to it, what's keeping you from it?"

"Lots of things, Mom. I enjoy cooking and all, but what if I'm not 'chef' material? Remember that Chateaubriand I made for the family reunion a few years ago? Doing that was a lot of fun. And one time, Giovani even let me come back into the kitchen and he showed me how to cook Scallops Bonne Femme. That was an awesome experience! He's a master chef, you know. But having an interest, or even a knack, for cooking is different from being a professional chef. What if I don't have what it takes to make it?"

"You'll never know unless you try, Jack."

"But, Mom, I can't gamble our future on a whim; retirement's not all that far over the horizon, you know. It's really a risk; I don't know anything about the restaurant business. I think that is the part that concerns Nancy the most; I would hate to get us into something that might go sour on us."

"Listen to me son," she said in a stern but tender tone. "A poet once said 'Of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been!"' If you don't take a few risks now and then, you'll live a life full of regret!"

"I know. You're right, Mom. You know, Giovani did say that he would teach me everything he knows, and he's been in the business for almost forty years! If things go well, it could actually turn out to be very beneficial for Nancy and me. When Giovani retires, he'll give me the opportunity to buy him out. This could actually be very good for us if things were to go right. I just don't know what to do; it really is a gamble! What should I do, Mamma?"

Silence. Lost in thought, it took Jack a moment to notice how quiet the room had become. He smiled, looking at how peaceful his mother was resting. He laid his hand gently on hers and held it. Something squirmed and slipped sideways inside him. He looked more closely at her, gripping her hand tighter. "Mom?" he said. "Mom!" More silence.

Jack lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. He was surprised at how warm they still were. A tear rolled quietly from his eye. Rising, gently from the bed, he laid her hand tenderly on her lap and made his way haltingly out of the room, calling for his brother and sister as he went.

Later that morning, after the nurses and the coroner and the men from the funeral home had all gone, Jack sat alone on the front porch. The sky was turning gray in the east and the stars were disappearing one by one and Jack sat reflecting on the last things his mother had said.

Looking eastward, he said to the brightening sky "I hear what you were saying, Mamma! I won't live a life of regret! I will take the risk! I'm going to do it!"

Copyright © 2000 James Stokes