“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” – Charles Dickens (Great Expectations)
I think most of us looking back can remember a similar day. There is a before and an after to these days which mark the points where we set off on a path that forever changes our lives. For some it might be a positive development such as getting into college or being offered your dream job. For others it might be something tragic or sad or even an occurrence that seems completely random at the time.
For me the instance that started a chain reaction involves getting a flat tire. Had I not had the flat tire just about everything in my life after that moment would have turned out differently. I wouldn’t have married my wife Pam, and my sons Jake and Tucker would never have been born.
Looking back I realize how fortunate I was that somebody broke a piece of glass, and that traffic and wind placed that piece of glass directly in front of my spinning wheel which hit the piece of glass at a perfect angle to send it through my tire and inner tube, releasing the 100 lbs. of pressurized air and flattening my tire. Dozens of other seemingly insignificant details all conspired to make this moment a turning point in my life.
The funny part about the moment of getting this flat is that I wasn’t sad or even annoyed but almost immediately saw the opportunity it presented and thought “Pam”. But for this to make sense I need to back up a little bit.
Pam and I first met in graduate school at UW-Madison. I was taking a facilitation course and was assigned to help a team of graduate students who were working on a project for a local hospital. Pam was on that team, and we quickly became friends. Pam and I were both interested in other people when we began the class. My romantic interest quickly moved on to other interests, but Pam didn’t know this so she felt safe confiding in me what she liked/didn’t like about her other suitor. Their relationship was officially on “hold” since they lived in different parts of the country and both agreed to keep their options open. She would ask my advice on what different things meant from a male perspective, and I would say things like “Ouch, that’s not a good sign!” Little did she know I was taking this inside information to heart and I began to think about her in a different way. That said, I didn’t see an opening and so was content to remain friends. Pam was and is a great friend.
It turns out the opening I was looking for was the one in my tire. I was in a bike class and we were about 2 miles into the start of a 30 mile ride when my tire went flat. I had recently used my spare and not yet replaced it and my instructor was reluctant to lend me his as it would leave him without one. So he told me to walk back and wait for the class to return. I immediately formed an alternative plan.
Pam was working as a student advisor at the Lakeshore dorms, and one of the perks of this job was that she got free room and board and an office on Lakeshore. I was going to be tight on time that afternoon since I couldn’t use my bike to get around. As luck would have it Pam and I had a meeting at the hospital shortly after my bike class.
So I thought Pam might be able to help me out by stashing my bike in her apartment and giving me a ride to the meeting. So I headed to her office on Lakeshore path, knocked on her door, and entered in full spandex and biking garb.
Pam looked at me, smiled, and said… “Now there is a familiar face that is out of place” and the rest is, as they say, “history” (well not quite yet). Pam helped me out so I insisted on taking her to dinner to thank her. So our first “not quite a date” was dinner at Paisans. Soon after we started studying together but things remained mostly platonic with a little bit of flirting around the edges.
The next key moment came during finals week when Pam and I were studying and I could not concentrate (wonder why?). So I suggested that we set a goal to study until a certain point in the evening and then reward ourselves by renting and watching a movie. I could tell she could see the wheels were turning in my head but she reluctantly agreed probably to keep me from annoying her with my fidgeting.
So I went off to the video rental place in the Union, and rented the movie “Casablanca” (all’s fair in love and war) and met her at her apartment. I sat on her couch while she made us some popcorn. There was an open couch seat next to me and an open chair next to it. I told myself that if she sat next to me I was “In like Flynn” and if she sat in the chair it was “Game Over” and time to move on.
Well you can probably guess where she sat and the rest we can now say is “History”, except of course the part that we are still writing together today. In fact it will soon be our 20th Anniversary!
It just goes to show that you never know what the next spin of the wheel is going to bring. Here is hoping it brings you something as terrific as it did me! Happy Anniversary Pam!