I decided to take a slightly different approach on this post and write it as a story. This is a follow up to the post earlier this week on this poem. Above is a picture of the actual book that I am referring to in the post. I hope you enjoy.
A Love Affair is Born
Exuberance echoed through the sunny, spring afternoon as the newly released poured out into the parking lot like wrongly accused prisoners finally released after years of fighting their charges. It was the last day of high school and as I stood on the curb, I felt the past four years of distrust, mental and physical anguish, racism and classism that ruled the halls of the school wash away.
I was free and relieved knowing that I would never lurk the halls of the dilapidated and depressing building. Yet there was a gnawing feeling of missed opportunities and regrets that hung over my head as I looked back at the school.
The senior parking lot was bustling with excited graduates ready for the challenges of life beyond the confinement of this rite of passage referred to as the high school years. Everyone was saying their goodbyes, exchanging phone numbers, and making plans for connecting over the summer. This was the age before cell phones, texting, Facebook, and other social media capabilities. Without someone’s phone number or physical address, there was a good chance that you might never see them again.
That fact became even more evident as one of my regrets and missed opportunities walked out of the school passing by the small groups that gathered along the sidewalk. She was someone that I had been infatuated with for the past four years, but never had the guts to approach in any more capacity than a passing friendship.
Julie’s long, straight, blond hair swayed and glimmered in the sun as she sauntered with her surfer girl swagger. She epitomized the surfer girl persona that I had ogled over in the surfer magazines. According to my adolescent male mental matchmaker, she was the perfect girl for me. Only, I had never pursued her other than casual conversations in the few classes that we had together.
She paused a few yards away from me just in front of the first line of cars in order to talk to someone. I suddenly felt like the rest of my life would hinge on this moment as if this was my last opportunity to talk to her before she was engulfed by the humming rows of cars that were anticipating escape from this asphalt prison almost as much as the student pouring into them. I was correct that talking to her would affect the rest of my life, but not for the reason that I imagined.
I had no idea where she lived or how to reach her. If I didn’t act now, I would never know if anything would become of the potential beautiful relationship that I had built in my imagination.
This was it. This was my chance. But wait, she was talking with someone else. What if she spurned me or responded with disgust by the idea of giving me her phone number? I would be embarrassed. I would be humiliated and I am sure everyone would know it.
Too bad, I gathered up as much courage as I could muster and approached her.
“Hey Julie”, I said attempting to hide my nerves that I was sure would turn into visible shaking at any second.
“Oh, hey Sean”, she replied happily. That was a good start. She opened the door with her welcoming response.
The three of us proceeded to talk about plans for the summer and any other topic that I could think of to draw the conversation out while keeping her from the clutches of the waiting sea of cars just behind her. I was also hopeful that the other, unwelcome participant in our verbal triad would leave. I could then proceed with my quest with no witnesses to the potential repulsive response from Julie that my mind was drumming up as a worst case scenario.
Nothing doing, the guy wasn’t leaving and the conversation was about to reach its end of normalcy and stray into the strange world of uncomfortable forced conversation. I had to act.
“Hey Julie”, I was going for it; “I was wondering if you wanted to hang out sometime over the summer?”
“Sure that would be great”, she responded enthusiastically.
Wait, no disgusted look on her face. No telling me to get lost or only in my dreams or some other colorful denial of request attack.
“Really, ok cool”, I said attempting to hide the fireworks that were going off in my body.
Of course, I hadn’t thought of having a piece of paper or anything to write her number down.
Without me even having to ask she added, “Why don’t you get my number from Mark and give me a call”. Mark was a mutual friend that I hung out with sometimes and I did have his phone number.
“Great, I will do that. I’ll give you a call.”
“Sounds fun”, see said as we all said our goodbyes and she finally disappeared into the rows of cars and I stood their feeling elated, shocked and once again regretful. If it was that easy, why I waited so many years, I wondered. Oh well, no matter, I did it.
It was about a week before I got her number and worked up the courage to call her. We did end up going out once and we talked on the phone numerous times. However, much to my disappointment, we were two different people on two different paths in life. After a short time, we stopped calling each other and I never saw her again.
Sounds like a sad ending, but this was actually just the beginning of something much more important than this short, passing relationship. Long since then, I have come to see people pass in and out of my life for different reasons. These reasons are often different than I expected and sometimes for reasons that I never fully understood.
It took me years to realize the reason that our paths had crossed the way that they did. The reason was a small but very significant exchange that we had while talking on the phone one night.
She was a bit of a poetry buff and one night she decided to share with me one of her favorite poems. She read the poem to me and I was instantly attracted to and emotionally moved by the message carried by its words. I immediately wrote down the name of the poem and the author and vowed to find a copy of it for myself.
The poem was “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. This poem conveyed a strong message that deeply influenced me. Up to that point in my life and for many more years to come, I struggled with my own identity and as a result suffered from depression and low self-esteem. This poem opened up the possibility to me that it was ok if I didn’t always fit in or follow that same tune as everyone else. What mattered was that I was following the path in life that was meaningful to me.
A Rekindled Romance
“Daddy, we are learning about poetry in class and I need to find a poem to read for homework”, my seven-year-old daughter said to me in a sweet yet confused voice after dinner.
“You don’t sound excited about that”, I responded
“I am, but I don’t know where to find any poetry”, she said desperately.
“Ah, I have some books that we can look at or we can look on the internet”, I said as she perked up and regained her composure.
“Ok, will you help me”, she asked now excited at the prospect.
“Of course I will.”
I contemplated the best place to look for poetry as we entered the study and approached the desk.
“I know one we can look at”, I exclaimed as I remembered my beloved Robert Frost poetry book on the shelves that lined the wall behind the desk.
I pulled out the familiar book and studied it for a second. It had been twenty-four years since that exchange with Julie when I first heard about this book. The memory of and desire for Julie has long faded, but my love affair with this book and one particular poem still burned bright. In fact, I would say that it has grown over the years.
The cover was well worn and ripped along the lower right corner. The pages had turned a dusty yellow as most old books do. It felt familiar in my hands. It was different than most of the other books that were on the shelf. It seemed to have more character. The pages were thick and ruff and the edges coarse. For the past few years, most of the books that I read were in electronic format and it felt nostalgic to hold this cherished book in my hands.
“This one has my favorite poem inside”, I told my daughter as her eyes lit up at the thought.
“Really, let’s read it.”
“Whatcha guys doing” asked my eleven-year-old son as has walked into the study.
“We are gonna read some poetry for homework. Wanna listen”, I asked. “This book has my favorite poem in it.”
“Cool, sure”, he said as he pulled up an extra chair.
I sat down in the desk chair and my daughter climbed up in my lap and leaned her head back against my shoulder waiting for me to find the poem. My son scooted his chair over next to mine and leaned in on my other shoulder. This was like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting and I loved it. How exciting it was to see my kids interested in hearing my beloved poem.
Several of the pages in the book were dog-eared, but my fingers seemed to remember the exact location of the poem. They opened the book and there it was. The words of this short poem along with a drawing of a sign post pointing two directions was a familiar and welcomed site.
“This is called The Road Not Taken”, I proclaimed.
“Let me read it”, my daughter jumped in.
“Sure thing, that would be great”, I replied. I was tickled by the prospect of hearing those sweet words recited from my daughter’s mouth.
“Two roads…”, she paused and stared at the next word and then looked up at me as if to say give me some help here.
“Diverged”, I added
She started again, “Two roads di…verged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both….”
As she read the rest of the poem, I couldn’t help but gloat at this fatherly moment. There are many moments in my time as a father that I am not proud of retelling. This, however, was one of those beloved moments when I felt that I was raising my own perception of my fathering abilities.
As she finished the poem both of my kids looked at me with a pleased yet perplexed look on their faces. I could tell that the poem needed an explanation.
“What the poem means to me is that everyone lives their life a certain way. Some people choose to follow others and do what everyone else is doing. Some decide to do what they believe is right for themselves even if it is something different than what everyone else is doing or telling them to do. Sometimes like in the poem, you have a choice to do what everyone else is doing or follow your heart and do what you feel is right for you. By doing what is right for you, you will live a much happier and satisfying life. “
“Cool, I like that poem”, chimed in my son.
“Yeah me too, I wanna read it again”, chirped my daughter excitedly. “And can I take this book to school tomorrow to share.”
“Sure, that’s a great idea”, I replied feeling accomplished in my fatherly duties of imparting some wisdom on my kids.
My daughter proceeded to read the poem three more times and then take the book to bed with her. I was happy that my kids connected with the poem and I felt reunited with an old friend. The poem was once again rattling around in my head and its meaning became even clearer to me than in the past.
Later that night, I walked into my daughter’s room to check on her before going to bed. There she lay sound asleep with innocence that sleeping children typically display. She was snuggled up in her blankets with stuffed animals neatly positioned around her like servants patiently awaiting their next command.
Tucked into one arm was her favorite stuffed cow and in the other hand lay something quite familiar. She held the poetry book tightly against her chest like a cherished friend.
As she quietly slept, I stood there observing her and thinking about how the message of the poem had influenced my life. Many decisions that I have made in my life and meaningful experiences that I have had I attribute to this lesson from this poem of taking paths less traveled.
Marrying my beautiful wife and spiritual partner and journeying into the wild and wooly world of parenthood, moving half way across the country on a whim and settling down in a new state, running a marathon, participating in triathlons, flying in a twin-engine plane over an active volcano, skydiving, surfing in a hurricane charged ocean, hiking to the tops of numerous Colorado 14ers, trying to start my own business, starting down a spiritual path, and starting this blog are all examples of where I have stepped off the safe and comfortable road and took a chance on something that was more meaningful to me.
Eventually, I will be fully committed to the path not traveled and let go of the well-traveled road that I have been resistant to let out of my sight…and that will make all the difference.
For the full poem, see the previous post.