Missed Chances — a short story

Posted on 2019 July 28


There are joys that long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away. — Henry Ward Beecher

“Are you okay?”

“I’m … a little … upset.”

“Upset? You’re sobbing. Jeez, there’s snot strings hanging out of your nose. Let me get you a tissue.”

“Sorry, I—”

“It’s okay. Here’s that tissue. Better take a couple more.”


“Why so sad?”

“I … I got some bad news today.”

“What was it?”

“Doc says I have cancer.”

“Oh, man! I’m so sorry! Is it, you know, like—”

“Terminal? Don’t know yet. I think I can get through it. But we’re not sure. We’re waiting on the biopsy report, and … and …”

“Take your time. Here, you be in charge of the tissue box.”

“Thanks … Then there’s, there’s … a C-T scan, and then I have to go to a hospital that has people who’re really good at removing tumors.”

“You must be scared.”

“It’s weird, but I’m not really afraid. When I heard the news, at first I had no reaction. For half a day. And then my mind sort of imploded. But instead of fear, I feel…”


“Sadness. Tremendous sadness. It’s overwhelming. And now it feels like it’s too late.”

“For what?”

“To do the things I wanted to do in life. I kept putting them off. I kept thinking, ‘I’m not ready yet. Let me get my act together first, and then I’ll go out and do stuff.’ But I’ve been thinking that way my whole damn life. I was just gonna keep putting things off. And now maybe I’m out of time.”

“What did you want to do?”

“Do? So many things. But I was full of doubt. Just frozen in place. I was always afraid I wasn’t good enough. I kinda walled myself off, avoiding people and avoiding doing things with them. And now it’s hitting me like a ton of bricks — what I really wanted to do was just be with people. Instead, I told myself they weren’t that important. All my fancy projects were just ways of keeping me busy instead of being with others. Suddenly I’m seeing that life is really about connecting with people, but I stayed home. I wasted so much time. All I have to show for it is loneliness. It’s overwhelming.”

“You’ve got friends here. And you talk about other stuff you do out in the world.”

“You don’t know how much time I spend alone. I’ve perfected my separateness. I’ve got it down to a T. It’s been a badge of pride, like, ‘I don’t need people. They’re optional.’ Even when I go out, I never get close to anyone. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“I end up staying home and reading about life instead of living it.”

“Well, you can spend more time with us. And go out and meet new people.”

“That’s for sure. And I really appreciate knowing you guys. Still, all these decades of cutting myself off, I wasted so many opportunities. Looking back, I can think of a lot of people who offered friendship, and I just walked away. I was too busy obsessing about my problems and trying to be perfect. Now I feel so much regret.”

“Hey, it’s not over yet. There’s lots of people who like you.”

“Thanks. I’ll definitely pay more attention to them. But I want back all those years I wasted.”

“I wish there was something I could do.”

“Talking helps.”

“Okay. And, hey, they’ll probably cure you and then you’ll be fine. Right?”

“I hope so. But I’m getting old, and there are other health issues beginning to creep in. I’m much closer to the time when something’s gonna get me. I can’t push it away any longer.”

“But you’re so healthy! You work out, eat right — except for all that candy…”

“Stop it, you’re making me laugh.”


“It just feels so stupidly absurd, all the missed chances. It suddenly starts being funny.”

“Funny’s good.”

“It’s kind of ridiculous. Now I have to try to live a normal life while I’m waiting to hear if I have a death sentence.”

“That sucks— sorry, I don’t mean to sound crass.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s just, if I’m gonna die, I don’t want to get stuck being upset and waste the last part of my life, too.”

“Right. Now you’ve got me wondering, ‘What happens when I get a heart attack or a stroke or cancer, how’m I gonna react?’ I guess everyone’s gotta face this at some point.”

“For me it’s been so easy to put off. Who wants to think about this crap? I simply assume I’m immortal and ignore it. Now I’m realizing I should have thought about it sooner. Maybe I’d have spent more time with people instead of sticking my head in the Internet. It’s just so, so … I’m gobsmacked. I frickin’ wasted my life.”

“Oh, c’mon. You’ve accomplished a lot of things.”

“A few, maybe. But it’s paltry compared to what I could have done. I could have participated, contributed, instead of watching from the sidelines.”

“There’s still time. You just gotta … live. Keep on living. The past is the past. It’s right now that counts.”

“Yes, I suppose so. I appreciate you listening. It helps.”

“Well, you’re really honest. I totally get your sadness about it.”

“Wait, do you need a tissue?”

“Oh, it’s just something in my eye. Okay, one tissue.”

“Here you go.”