Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Most Incredible Trade-in

Flowers from my co-workers
on my last day at the clinic
He was striding across the parking lot when I recognized him through the restaurant window.  Nearly 10 years removed from veterinary practice, I had not seen my former employer in a crow’s age. My kids, having heard umpteen clinic yarns, clamored to meet him. (After all, I’d lionized the man as my salvation during innumerable obese dog spays; their tissues often hemorrhaged profusely, plunging me into panic until Dr. Smiley would swoop to the rescue.) Dr. Smiley knew I was working with orphans, and asked amiably about my recent trip to Russia. 

As I left I scanned for his car, spotting his initials on the vanity plate of a high-end black Mercedes. He’d always owned upscale automobiles, but this was several trades up from when I’d left the clinic. Though I’d never cared much about cars, the rest of the day I revisited my decision to leave my veterinary career. The statement made by Dr. Smiley’s latest wheels seemed to mock my choice, inciting unwholesome longing for what might have been.

The Stratus, the only new car we ever owned,
right before the new owners drove it away
A few years after I’d graduated, Dr. Smiley’d kept me late one evening to ask me to buy into the clinic. Honored, but by then keenly aware that veterinary medicine was not my calling, I determined that one misstep in becoming a veterinarian did not oblige me to make another in practicing long-term. I thanked him, but declined.

Our precious daughter with the Buick
We bought our only new car after I’d worked a year, but the 1996 Dodge Stratus was an early casualty in the sell-off to fund our Guatemalan adoption. An older Buick its replacement, selling the Stratus began a downward spiral in transportation. Borderline respectable but socially painful, the Buick announced the derailment of our upward ascent just as it had begun.

It was serendipitous that when driving the Buick I couldn’t foresee how much further we’d sink into the vehicular abyss. After our first adoption, I slashed my hours at the clinic. Shortly before our second daughter’s arrival from China, I quit completely, overjoyed to escape the unrelenting pressure of medicine.  It was a decision I never once regretted.

This car earned its nickname, "Smoky," by belching
black clouds every time we left a stop sign.

It would be a lengthy digression were I to chronicle each car which rolled into and out of our lives, but one, a $300 Prizm, warrants note. We drove that old jalopy countless miles as it grew progressively louder, stinkier, and rustier. When the trunk lock rusted out, we joked we had a keyless entry. Mortifying me at every bump, the trunk lid would bounce, banging as it slammed down. Our daughters would giggle at the commotion, blessedly ignorant of the spectacle our jaunts created.

My husband on the Prizm's better side
Ironically, the entire epoch so injurious to my pride started with our first adoption, and
ended with our last. Bringing home siblings from Russia finally provided the excuse to retire the Prizm. After driving the car four years without a single breakdown, we sold it for $350, a $50 profit, and bought a newer minivan. While any van blunted the image I preferred to project, it was decent, and our new kids escaped the ignominy which had shadowed our
transportation in the past.

Next, we pinballed through a series of vans, all of them refreshingly nondescript and lacking the “personality” of the Prizm.  And while I’d occasionally admire the neighbor’s Mercedes, I never felt I’d left anything on the table until that day at the restaurant when I saw Dr. Smiley’s latest ride.

Our first summer with all four kids and a van
Well into that evening, I silently rued leaving a good job for a glorified volunteer position with the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project. By now I would have my own Mercedes—silver— instead of sharing a van with Randy. What had I been thinking? Wallowing in the morass of self-pity, I styled myself a martyr who’d made a harebrained mistake.
Until God called to mind Angelina.

Then Igor.

And Masha. And Inna. And Katya. And Ivan and Irina.

And Nadia, Nikolai, Nastya, and Alexandra.

And Sasha, Eduard, Daria, Lima, Liza, and more than 70 other erstwhile orphans now home, cherished by families, because I’d loosed the shackles of a life-sucking career. As faces and stories of those I’d helped, and those I yearned to, paraded through my mind, I froze in stunned astonishment.

In Moscow in 2011 with Angelina, the child dearest
to my heart of all the kids I helped
I hadn’t been given a fair trade!  

For by merely forfeiting the chance to drive a snazzy car, I’d gained the infinitely superior chance to save a child’s life.

So for my paltry token, God allowed me to make the most incredible trade-in of all.
On Sunday, as I was putting the finishing touches on this piece, a call came from Angelina; in her sweet English she wished me a happy Mother's Day, then updated me on her life in her new home. Right before we hung up, she added, "Becky, thank you family!" and put a million exclamation points on this post. Short of the homemade cards my own kids gave me, this was the best gift I could have imagined. To make a difference in any life, and especially this one...


  1. Thanks Becky for the renewed perspective!-Stacy Q

    1. Stacy, you're welcome! Thank you for reading, and writing!

  2. and all these precious souls will be with you in Heaven too.....thanking you.....loving you.....FOREVER!!
    That's alot better reward than a snazzy car in your garage!!!
    Beautiful piece- thanks for writing it!

  3. Cari and Tom,

    Thank you for your very kind comment. You're so right, and that is something to really look forward to!

    By the way, I loved your word "snazzy," and I borrowed it for the second-to-last sentence of the piece.

    Thank you for reading!


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