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.
“Don’t die with the music still in you.” ~ Wayne Dyer
Is there something inside of you trying to get out? Does it speak to you, show up in your life saying “pay attention to me”, or nag at you as something you should pursue?
Do you tell it “not now”, “the time is not right”, “I’m not ready yet”, “I’ll be ready when …”, or “someday”?
What if you never get that “someday”? If you died tomorrow would look back on your life with no regrets feeling like you had accomplished what you came here to do?
Everyone has a reason for being here, a calling, a purpose. Everyone has some “music” inside of them. This may not literally be music, but there is something that sings to you. Maybe it is that song that you want to compose or perform, that book that you want to write, that cause that you want to support, that place that you want to visit, or that job that you really feel a calling for.
Listen to that “music” inside of you. Let it direct you. Pay attention to its calling. Nothing else in the world is going to give your life meaning like playing that “song”.
If you wait for that someday and it never comes, the world will not get to benefit from your expression of your “music”.
I think that if everyone listened to the “music” inside of themselves and shared it with the world, there would be much less hatred, anger, sadness, depression and fear in the world.
Share your “music”. The world needs it.
The ancient masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it.
One can only describe them vaguely
by their appearance.
Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
Alert, like men aware of danger.
Simple as uncarved wood.
Hollow like caves.
Yielding, like ice about to melt.
Amorphous, like muddy water.
But the muddiest water clears
as it is stilled.
And out of that stillness
He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.
But precisely because he is never full,
he can remain like a hidden sprout
and does not rush to early ripening.
There are several themes prevalent in this verse, but I want to focus on three that stand out to me and that speak to my life in its current state.
Characteristics of the Ancient Masters
The first are the characteristics of the ancient masters that the verse describes. (It is interesting that a book written thousands of years ago refers to ancient masters.) These characteristics are worth noting as important for us all:
- Watchful – Aware of what the Universe/God is presenting.
- Alert – Ready for whatever life dishes out.
- Simple – Not needing fancy garments or objects to make them who they are.
- Hollow – Open to new experiences and ideas and keeping space within to allow room for growth mentally and spiritually.
- Yielding – adaptable to the changing situations of one’s life.
- Amorphous – Not formed around or tied to any one idea, precept, or notion, but rather open to all.
The second one is the third stanza that talks about stillness. This stanza is a good analogy for the mind. Even the “muddiest” mind clears as one sits in stillness. And it is out of this stillness that our minds can be ready to handle anything.
Unfold as they will
The last one and the one that is the most profound to me because it is something that I have been focusing on in my own life comes in the last stanza of this verse. The message of this stanza is for us not to be focused on the end state. I.e. “to be full”. Instead we should be content with how we are right now; knowing that things (physical or non-physical) will come to us when the time is right. So don’t “rush to early ripening”, let things unfold as they will.
The Universe/God does not have a concept of time. That is something that we create in our society. The Universe/God does care if it is now or twenty years from now, what we need will come to us when the time is right. So we shouldn’t create anxiety, anger and sadness in our lives because we are fighting to make things happen according to our plans or expectations on time.
As I have written before in previous posts, this does not mean that we should not plan goals and go for things in our life and just sit around for things to come to us. The Universe/God does require action. Instead this means we should be accepting and gracious for what we are given and continue to work towards what is right for us in a positive and constructive manner instead of fighting against the flow of life.
Every set back or dip in the road is merely an opportunity to learn; to stretch yourself a little bit further; to step closer to your true self. I have spent the last few weeks in one of those dips. Feeling trapped by the disappointments in life. Feeling forlorn and (as my wife calls it) throwing a pity party for myself.
As it typically happens, I am coming out of that better off than before. Ready to take that next step and be better from the journey. I learned an important lesson. One that I hope to carry forth into moments to come. The lesson is:
The changes that I want to make to myself must be made now in my current situation and settings. I mustn’t waste energy on trying to adapt the situations and settings to make my internal changes easier.
I feel stuck in job that I don’t like. When I look back I think I have felt that way for most of the past fifteen years that I have been in that career. I now know that the career is not what I am here to do. It is not my passion. That’s OK, it pays the bills and … well it is a job. Many people don’t have that problem. I can start to make changes towards something that is more in alignment with my passions in life. The important thing is to not feel despondent because I am stuck. I am not; it will just take time to make the changes.
I feel stuck in a house that I don’t like living in. Don’t get me wrong it is a beautiful home and a wonderful part of the world. However, my house has the unfortunate feature of being located between the homes of two of the biggest @$$holes I have had the pleasure to know. This has caused me a lot of grief. I want to live in a situation that brings peace and love, not animosity and constant negativity.
However, I have come to know that I am in this situation for a reason. Those neighbors are here to teach me that I need to learn to let go of my own anger. Instead of running from it and trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist. I need to look it square in the face, thank it for helping me to get where I am in my life, and then let it leave with its bags packed. Being in the situation that I am in allows me to confront that part of me.
So the important thing is that I don’t need to wait until the external situations are a certain way. I need to make the changes within me now in my current situation. The situations will handle themselves. I can’t control them. The only thing that I have control over is how I am in the situations that present themselves to me.
Am I living in peace…in love…in joy? That is really all that matters. The rest will catch up when the time is right.
- 15 Things You Should Give Up to be Happy (velindapeyton.com)
Several years ago I had a dream that has been a motivating force for me ever since. When I awoke from it, a vivid collection of words from the dream stuck with me and have become my words to live by.
As I slept, I had some strange dream that was a conglomeration of different images and scenes. I don’t really remember much of the actual dream. What I do remember is waking up feeling like I was still in my dream. Words were physically visible in front of my mind’s eye. It was not like I was thinking the words, but rather like they were physically present. The words hung on as if to ensure that after I woke up, I didn’t go about my day and ignore the dream that I just had.
I instantly grabbed a notebook and pen to write down the words that seemed to be imprinted on my brain. I was afraid that I would forget them as I typically do with dreams from the previous night after a short while of being awake. Not this time. The words were strangely still clearly visible.
Once I wrote the words down, I sat back and stared at them. What did they mean? How did they come to me in a dream? Why were they so vividly displayed in my mind? Were they a message from some divine being or did my mind just randomly come up with them? Was there a reason for them coming to me now?
The words that I was staring at were:
If you dare, today is the day you will soar.
Go for what you know in your heart you want to accomplish despite the fears, the negative self-talk and the cynical opinions of others and you will live your life to its fullest. That is what these words mean to me.
I didn’t have anything big that day that would need some extra motivation to get through. I could have ignored it as a random occurrence or something too strange to want to deal with. Instead I took it as a mantra for my life. Although I often forget and go back to my old ways, I try to remember to follow this mantra when I get into situations that cause me pause because of my fear, discomfort, or laziness.
I now have a necklace with these words inscribed on and a coffee mug displaying them as well…thanks to my wonderful wife for giving me those as a constant reminder to go for what I want in life.
Are you going for what you want in your life or could you use these words to propel you into action?