Grandkid joke: What’s brown and crooked and looks like a stick?
Answer: A stick.
I thought it was just a stick that got tangled in the bird netting around our blueberry bushes and paid no attention to it for weeks, until one day I saw more white than brown.
“Oops,” I thought, looking more closely and realizing it was a snake skeleton. I figured the 12-inch snake had slinked along the edge of the blueberry patch, looking for whatever prey might hang around the bushes, and it meandered through a couple of the nylon links of the netting.
If a snake has the capacity to think, I imagine this one was thinking much like the fish who ran into a cement wall beneath the water and said, “Dam.”
I imagined those dreadful final hours, even days, the snake spent trying to wriggle out of the netting, each slithering movement only entrapping it further in the interwoven, nylon mesh meant to keep birds from stealing my precious blueberries.
And I thought of other “oops” moments in life, those unintended interruptions when you’re suddenly aware that you don’t belong in the spot where you’ve just interjected yourself. Fortunately, most are not fatal.
Like opening the wrong door when looking for your meeting room, and seeing the instructor’s slide explaining to delivery room nurses the anomaly of a baby being born with genitalia of both sexes.
Or when you see a friend in a small circle of others, so you pop in to say “hi” and realize they’ve been talking about you. Oops.
Or when you go back to the college from which you were drafted into the Army to see if your scholarships are still in place; and they tell you, “No, you have to start applications all over.” Oops on them and goodbye.
Or when you’ve worked up your courage for weeks to plant your first kiss on the lips of a girl you’ve dreamed about, and she turns away.
Or when you drive your dad’s gasoline delivery truck to your summer job one day, and end up backing it into a barn.
Or when your sister takes the car when she’s not supposed to and ends up stuck in a marsh. Oops.
Or when you take your wife to the theater to see a nice little rom-com and discover it’s no longer showing, so you pop into “Silence of the Lambs” instead.
Or when you’re hired on staff by the last moderate leader of a Baptist state convention, and he leaves months later. Oops.
Or when you’re a televangelist preaching against sins of the flesh and reporters follow you to your favorite New Orleans hooker.
Some of the above examples are from my own life; I’ll let you guess which ones. None of them had the same, fatal consequences that the poor, squirming serpent endured.
When I saw the snake’s skeleton among the leaves, entangled in the mesh, I couldn’t help thinking about the line from Walter Scott’s epic poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” The snake wasn’t trying to deceive anyone. It was doing an honest snake day’s work, looking for something to eat. It just got tangled in a web from which it could not escape, even unto death. Oops.
You’ve likely had many “oops” moments that led to embarrassment or temporary discomfort or even revelation. Sometimes you can’t unsee or unhear something you learned in such a moment; a gossip shared that hurt your feelings or someone’s who you love. But you’ll survive.
Own the moment. Walk away proud.
Don’t be like George Costanza from the TV show “Seinfeld” who was changing from the pool when a woman walked in on him just as he’d dropped his swimsuit to the ground. Her laughter and his mortification was a classic oops moment.
But remember, the water was cold.