By Joyce Suttin
I was eight years old and learning diligence through the few chores I had been given. Growing up on a sheep farm near Pleasant Hill, in upstate New York, there were always lots of responsibilities to be divided between us four children. Being the youngest, I had been used to getting what I wanted—the easiest jobs—but my oldest brother and sister were busier off the farm these days, so more responsibility fell on me. I felt very grown up whenever Dad asked me to do something new. I wanted to show how responsible I was.
It had been an especially cold spring, and lambing began in the middle of a fierce snowstorm. Dad gathered the newborns and brought the frailest ones into the kitchen, where they slept in cardboard boxes around the coal stove. Huddled in the hay, they survived their first nights. Dad would awaken early to feed them their mother’s milk from baby bottles. I eagerly helped during the first days. I loved the feel of the lambs’ first charcoal gray wool, soft and warm. I loved their little bleats and the way they eagerly sucked on the bottle in my hand. I loved feeling grown up and helpful.
Dad was pleased. He was learning to trust me to help, to feed the lambs without being reminded. He saw my willingness to learn and took it as a sign that I was growing out of early childhood. I was becoming a big kid instead of the baby of the family.
As the lambs got stronger and the weather became a bit milder, Dad returned them one by one to the barn to stay with their mothers. They were all doing well—all except one. This lamb’s mother had died in the storm, and Dad needed to find a foster mother for her. But first, the lamb needed to be strengthened. Her weak and wobbly legs barely supported her. When he would lift her to a standing position, she would flop back down on the hay. She needed more time in the house and more bottle-feeding before she would be ready to handle the colder temperatures in the barn or be accepted by another mother.
Dad left for work at 6 am, having left instructions for me to feed the lamb before I left for school, but I had stayed up reading the night before and barely had time to pull on my clothes and run out to catch the school bus. It was around ten o’clock math class when I remembered the lamb.
After school I ran home from the bus stop to find Dad sweeping around the coal stove. He looked up and asked, “Joyce, did you remember to feed the lamb this morning?”
I hesitated before answering, hung my head, and answered, “No, Daddy. I’m sorry. I forgot.”
“Well, honey,” he said softly, “I am sorry too, but the lamb died.”
Tears welled up as I said again, “Daddy, I am so sorry!”
He gently took my shoulders in his hands. “This lamb is gone, and sorry won’t bring it back. There will be other lambs, other chances to get it right, but you know, sorry doesn’t always fix it. When we neglect a responsibility, when we forget to do something important, sometimes we only have one chance. We can be sorry, but sorry won’t bring the lamb back.”
It was a hard lesson for an eight-year-old, and I’ve never forgotten the feeling. It taught me to watch out for things in life that sorry can’t fix, especially things that will have an impact on others’ happiness and well-being. A harsh, unloving word can never be pushed back into my mouth. A selfish, thoughtless moment can never be lived differently. A kind word that should have been said can be said later, but not in that perfect moment when it would have done the most good.
We can only live today once, and we only have one chance to get it right. We’ll never be perfect, but if we continually remind ourselves of our responsibility to others and try to do the loving thing at every opportunity, we’ll have fewer times when “sorry doesn’t fix it.”
© The Family International. Used with permission.