"Choose you this day whom you will serve... ."
- Joshua 24:15
As I make plans to attend my 50th college reunion, and Columbia County seniors prepare to graduate from high school or college, we might be looking in opposite directions but the heavy responsibility of making choices is uppermost on all our minds.
As I look back, comparing my "what if's" with what really happened, I think of the words of an early 20th-century poet, and wonder how well or unwise my choices were when "two roads" diverged for me.
If ever there was a man with an ivy-league spoon in his mouth, it was Robert Frost. Besides inheriting his staunch, New Hampshire family name, he displayed early intelligence and a talent for writing. He'd have been welcome in the best of schools. He chose Dartmouth, one of his state's best - and quit seven weeks later.
After marrying his high school sweetheart Frost tried education again, Harvard this time, hoping to become a college professor - and quit again far short of graduation.
The next choice wasn't his to make. His grandfather gave him a farm, with the stipulation that the under-achieving grandson remain there for at least 10 years or he would have to give the property back.
Farming wasn't his bent. He'd had enough education to supplement his meager farm income by teaching at a local academy, and perhaps enough pride in the family name not to let his grandfather down. But as soon as his 10-year obligation ended he sold the farm and began doing what he had always wanted to do: write poetry.
He was 40 when his first book of poems was published and 50 before he earned his first Pulitzer Prize. After that he earned more honors, including honorary degrees from all those Ivy League schools he could have attended, and three more Pulitzers. By the time he died at 89 he would be known forever as one of America's finest poets.
His poem, "The Road Not Taken," reads like an autobiography: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." What better way to describe the poet's early, drop-out life than "the one less traveled by," or his later honors as "all the difference?"
But the poem was one of his first, written as a subtle chide to a naturalist friend who constantly rued that he might have found a more beautiful plant or specimen to share with the world had he taken a different road. The line, "I shall be telling this with a sigh," described his friend, not himself.
By all accounts, no matter how far "off the beaten path" he traveled, Frost had no regrets. But many of us do. We either took that "different road" or wish we had, and wonder what our lives would be like today if we hadn't made the choices we did. Would we be richer, poorer, happier or less fulfilled? Human questions, limited point of view.
"With God," my pastor once said, "you can be in His will no matter where you are or what you choose to do." Shades of the familiar verse, "God works all things together for good... " (Romans 8:28) perhaps? The Bible is full of examples:
- Moses, born when a jealous ruler was ordering the deaths of all male infants, but rescued by the tyrant's daughter and trained for royalty, left his privileged life behind to lead his people from captivity to the promised land.
- David, the too-young son by his family's standards to be anointed King, but chosen by God to rule Israel - and be forgiven when he took that wrong road toward another man's wife. David, the perennial example of God's ability to overcome the worst choices His people make.
- Paul, who set out to exterminate the Christian church but, after an encounter with God, established churches throughout Asia Minor and penned the New Testament letters that continue to guide Christians today.
Left to our own devices, no matter what choices we make we may be "telling this with a sigh." But with the God who chose us as His people, no matter what road we're on or how many detours we take, it's never too late for Him to lead us down that other road - or smooth the one we're traveling.
And that, said the poet, makes "all the difference."
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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