Reflections on The Road Not Taken – Part II

Frost-Book-Cover

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.

Crossroads

“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.

Related Posts

  1. Jonathon Hilton on The Road Not Taken
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Reflections on The Road Not Taken – Part I

Source: piccsy.com via Dimi on Pinterest

Since It was introduced to me many years ago, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost has been my favorite poem. I have a book containing a collection of his poems that is worn and weary with the page containing this poem dog-eared and well used from its repeated reading.

I have had the intention to share this poem for a while now and to write about how I came across it and what it has meant to me. However as intentions often do, this particular intention had been collecting dust in one of my idea notebooks.

That is until recently. Over the last several weeks, I have been reminded of this poem repeatedly. In fact, so many times that I can’t ignore it any longer.

Tuesday night, when I posted the video by Kid President, I heard him recite those familiar words “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by”. It reminded me of my intention and I realized that I had heard this poem mentioned several times recently.

The next morning was the final straw when I turned on the radio and immediately heard a report on NPR about the 50th anniversary of Robert Frost’s death. About an hour later as I sat crossed legged on my yoga mat, the teacher set the intention for the class. You guessed it; the intention for the class came from the very same poem that I was being reminded of so frequently.

Ok Universe, I hear you. It’s time to dust off that intention and get the pen warmed up (or keyboard depending on the mood).

As I work on writing the words that my intention was leading me to and prepare a post that I hope to complete in the next day or two, I thought I would leave you with the poem in the meantime.

Enjoy! I would love to hear what the poem means to you.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

Don’t Worry, He Only Broke His Legs

Skydiving
This is a departure from the normal post today. I am writing today’s post based on The Daily Post @ WordPress.com. The topic for today is to write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond? Here is my response.

Seeing people that normally deal with the anxiety and excitement of an extreme sport such as skydiving on a daily basis with the look of worry and terror in their eyes is a bit unnerving. Especially since I was suited up and waiting my turn to do the very thing that had brought this terror to their normally calm expressions.

I had made the comment to my wife that the landing we had just witnessed did not seem like a very graceful execution of a textbook reengagement with the ground. I expected to see some flawless landings from the group of regular skydivers that we were watching. However, when the guy that had just landed didn’t get up and people were running in different directions all with a similar expression, I knew that something had gone terribly wrong.

When the ambulance and rescue vehicle drove across the landing field, I felt the strong desire that I had brought with me that morning to attempt skydiving start to wane. After all, if this guy who was a pro couldn’t land without injury, how would a green novice like myself have any hope.

I looked at my wife and then at my two young children running around the airplane hanger oblivious to events that were occurring in the near distance. Was I about to make them husbandless and fatherless, I wondered.

The scraggly instructor who looked more like a biker than a skydiving instructor came up to me a few minutes later. He still had the calm, controlled expression that everyone else seemed to lose earlier.

“Mr. Kramer”, he said, “You sure you still want to go through with this.”
Odd question I thought.

“Well, I dunno…what happened”, I questioned, wondering if the same fate would befall me if I went through with it.

“Oh, he was just messing around trying to show off”, he responded matter-of-factly as if he saw this sort of thing all the time.

“Is he alright”, I asked as the ambulance pulled out of the airport with the fallen skydiver.

“He’s fine. He legs may be broken, but he will be alright”.

Skydiving

I entered deep thought mode for a few minutes as everything swirled around in my mind. All the potentials for danger and potentials for fun were competing with one another in my mind. I replayed the video from my orientation earlier that I watched prior to getting suited up. Be aware, the video announcer had said, this sport is still considered experimental and injury and even death could occur. Not very inspiring

“Are the conditions ok. I mean that’s not what caused him to crash is it?”, I questioned.

“Nope, conditions are fine. Like I said he was just showing off.”

“Let’s do it!” I said looking into his eyes determined to go through with my desire to do this.

After a hug and a kiss from my wife and kids, I was jumping into the back of an old pickup truck with my instructor. Heading out to the runway, I could feel my heart starting to beat stronger as the adrenaline was starting to flow. Was I really doing this? Was I going to jump out of an airplane after seeing the commotion of the morning? Would I end up like that guy getting lugged away by an emergency crew…or worse?

Skydiving

The truck came to an abrupt halt and we jumped out onto the black deck of the runway. There it was, the airplane that would take me to my jumping altitude. I was not impressed by what was in front of me. I had been on some small planes, but this was ridiculous.

I had seen the websites and brochures for skydiving companies over the years as I worked up the nerve to actually sign up to do one. Their planes looked nothing like this. They were always shiny and sleek looking like they would take their passengers into the sky in comfort and style. The one before me now had none of the above.

It was small; enough room for the pilot and maybe four people on the floor in the back. There were no seats in the back, just the smooth, hard surface of the floor. We entered the door on the side of the plane as I realized that it had no door, just an opening in the side of the plane where a door used to be at some point in this little plane’s evidently long life.

Inside, things didn’t look much better. Duct tape held many of the panels up the sides of the interior. The one seat used by the pilot looked like something stolen out of an old junkyard car and bolted in to take the place of a once more appropriate seat.

My instructor clipped us onto the plane using the hook welded onto the floor. Good thing because I was wondering how we would stay in this thing once it started to pitch and turn.
The engine started and the wheels rolled and sooner than I could say wait a minute, I changed my mind, we were off the ground. The engine strained and fought its way into the clear blue sky.

Skydiving

As we climbed to our jumping altitude, I was lost in the beauty around me. The sky was as blue as the Caribbean Ocean with white billowy wisps of clouds scattered around. The Rocky Mountains spanned the horizon off to the west. The people, cars, and buildings beneath us started to look like the setting on a model train set. For a minute, I had forgotten about the dilapidated aircraft that I was strapped into or the fact that in a moment, I would be jumping out of it.

My trance was broken and I was brought back to reality with the instruction to get into position. With that command, my heart was racing again and I could feel the adrenaline rushing once more.

We scooted over to the edge of the plane with me strapped onto the front of my instructor. As I had been told, I swept my legs over the edge of the floor and allowed them to dangle under the body of the plane. Sitting on the edge of the plane, I could see the world below and realized how quickly I was about to get much closer to it.

My heart was now about to beat through my chest and my adrenaline was on full throttle. My body was shaking with anticipation and warning me of imminent danger. The body doesn’t quite understand why we are jumping out of something that is not about to crash and so it revolts against the notion.

“Are you ready?” the instructor screamed at the top of his lungs to combat the noise from the airplane engine and the wind rushing against us.

“Yes!”, I screamed back.

“Then scream!”, he yelled in return. The scream was to make sure you weren’t holding your breath out of fear.

I let loose a blood-curdling scream like Braveheart going into battle. “Ahhhhhh”, I yelled as our bodies left the solid form of the plane and the free-fall began. The sensation of the bottom dropping out beneath me quickly took my breath away and ended my war cry.

Falling, strangely, felt a lot like not falling. Besides the air beating against my face and contorting the skin on my face into Jim Carey like expressions, it felt surreal like I was just watching the earth while floating in the air. Yet at the same time my adrenaline was pulsating and I felt the rush of a drop from an amusement park ride. It was a sensation that I can’t quite describe.

With a tug like running into a clothes line while riding a bike, the parachute opened and slammed the breaks on our descent. The slow gliding motion felt as if I was a bird soaring towards the ground.

Skydiving
As the ground neared, I had a realization that once again broke my relaxed enjoyment. The landing is what the guy earlier that day had messed up and we were coming up to that portion of our journey. As my father-in-law colorfully says, it’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the sudden stop at the end. Plus earlier in the orientation, they had said that you could land on your feet, on your butt or on your head. Be ready for anything because you never know what to expect. Again, not very inspiring.

My heart raced once again as we approached the ground. The adrenaline surged once more as the possible outcomes spun around in my mind.

With a well-timed stall performed by my instructor, we paused before gently touching down on the ground as if we had just softly stepped off the back of the pickup truck that we were riding on earlier. Our journey had come full circle and we were back on the earth. Even better yet, we were unscathed in the process.

Once I was unhooked from all the straps and buckles, I returned to the welcoming arms of my wife and kids. I felt relieved and excited that I had gone through this adventure, yet sad that it was over.

It was one of the scariest and most exhilarating experiences I had ever been through. I had never been that scared in my life. However, it goes down as one of my top ten experiences.
Skydiving

Creative Writing – Lone Aspen

Snowy Path

Thoughts on this photo (click on it to see a larger image) that I took while show shoeing at Deer Creek Canyon this past Saturday. I noticed this lone aspen with golden leaves and it really stood out in contrast to the surroundings. It also caught my attention because most other aspens have no leaves on them at this time of year. So I found myself personifying this tree which seemed to have a rebellious personality. I wrote the following after viewing the photo at home and remembering the setting in which it was taken.

Stop and stand in silence.
The mountains are so placid that the snow can be heard falling to the earth.
The undisturbed snow blankets the forest and glimmers like a million diamonds as the sun seeps through the billowy evergreens and naked aspens lining the hillside.

The surrounding trees huddle around the trampled path allowing the desiring few to come and revel in the their beauty and peacefulness.

One aspen stands among the rest, determined to stand out and be noticed.
It has shaken the snow from its golden leaves and shouts out from the serenity “see me and know that you too can shed what has been thrust upon you and allow your true beauty and magnificence to shine”.