Life is a sum of all your choices. – Albert Camus
Her sister’s phone call had plunged Liz into one of her periodic episodes of deep self-doubt. While they had both gone to college, Mary had primarily used the experience as a means of finding a husband with prospects, while Liz had been inflamed by the spirit of women’s lib and decided she wanted a career of her own. Mary had chosen well; her husband had just been made a full partner in his law firm, and they had a beautiful house and two newish cars. They had two great kids and a third on the way, and it was obvious that they were still very devoted to one another. And while Liz was doing OK and didn’t exactly regret her choices, they hadn’t made her either as happy or as wealthy as her sister seemed to be. She still drove the dependable but aging ’68 Impala her father had given her when he bought his new Caprice a few years back, and insisted she didn’t really need a color television set. And her rented house in a modest middle-class suburb had all the room she needed.
But now she had been offered a promotion and a big raise; one catch was that it required a move to the East Coast, and another, more serious one was that she wasn’t at all certain she could handle both the extra responsibility and a move to a strange city at the same time. What if she made the wrong decision? And which decision was the wrong one? Staying here where she was comfortable but not really successful, or leaving her comfort zone in the hope of finding success? What if she lost both comfort and success, and had to slink back home with her tail between her legs? What if all this turmoil was the result of a poor decision in the first place, and she should’ve married Claude when he proposed? She had heard through the grapevine he was doing nearly as well as her brother-in-law. What if any decision she made now was wrong, because her previous decisions had been? What if…
“May I have a cookie?”
The unexpected question startled Liz out of her ruminations; she turned to find a rather extraordinary little girl of perhaps seven standing outside of the open patio door. She was dressed in soaking-wet blue jeans and a dirty T-shirt with a picture of Wonder Woman on it, and the state of her clothes and the fresh mud caked on her sneakers left little doubt as to how she had arrived in Liz’s backyard.
“Did you go into the drainage canal on purpose, or was it an accident?”
“An accident,” she said with a sheepish grin. “I was trying to cross on the pipe and I slipped.” The pipe in question was a conduit which crossed the canal from bank to bank, a few feet above the high water line; it was certainly wider than a tightrope, but Liz wouldn’t have felt comfortable trying to cross on it.
“I’m not sure I understand what that has to do with cookies.”
“Nothing, really,” the child stated matter-of-factly; “I just saw the package there so I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.”
“Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“Yeah, my mommy says that all the time. I’m not sure what it means, though.”
Liz set a plate full of cookies and a glass of milk down on the patio table. “It means if you don’t try something in the first place, you have no possibility of succeeding at it.”
“So if I hadn’t asked for the cookies, there was no chance of getting them.”
Liz handed her a paper napkin, realizing immediately how silly that was given her current state. “Right, and if you don’t try to tightrope-walk on a pipe, you’ll never know whether you could’ve done it.”
“Yeah, but you also wouldn’t have any chance of falling in the mud.”
“Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? I mean, you’re filthy and you smell like a swamp – ” (the little girl giggled) ” – and your mom will probably scream at you, but you got some cookies out of it.”
“And a new friend.”
“You’re very sweet,” Liz said; “I think you’re just saying that because I gave you cookies.”
“No, really, you remind me of my mommy.”
“Oh, how so?”
“Well, you actually look a lot like her, and you’re about the same size, and you’re smart like she is.”
“I think you probably inherited that from her.”
“Maybe from both; my daddy’s very smart too. He and mommy met in college. Did you go to college?”
“Yes, I did. I think you ought to go too, when you’re old enough.”
“TINA!” came a female voice from the other side of the canal. “Come inside and get cleaned up before dinner!”
“Nah, that was just like an appetizer.”
Liz laughed. “What’s your mommy’s name?”
“How strange; I’m called Liz. Your mommy and I have the same name, Elizabeth.”
“Oh, yeah! But it’s like y’all chose different parts of the name to go by.”
“It seems we made different choices in a lot of areas. But that’s part of what makes life interesting.”
“Well, I should go before she gets mad. Thank you for the cookies.”
“You’re welcome, Tina.” And with that the child sprang up and went through the gap in the fence, and Liz stood up just in time to see her reach the other bank after crossing perfectly on the conduit. She laughed a little as she heard Beth’s exclamations of dismay a minute later, then went back inside and picked up the phone. “Mr. Perkins? It’s Liz. I’m sorry to bother you at home, but you did say to let you know as soon as I had made my decision. I’m going to take that promotion. Yes, thank you very much; we’ll discuss the particulars tomorrow.”
Then she walked back out on the patio, picked up the plate and ate the one remaining cookie. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, she thought. If you don’t reach for the cookies you’ll never know how they taste, and Liz had decided she wasn’t going to be afraid of a little mud.