I am going to digress from politics in this post to share some personal thoughts.
Most of us think of time, if at all, as a scarce resource that continually challenges us. We seem to never have enough of it to accomplish all that we plan to do. But, eventually, the real meaning of time seems to dawn on most of us. Time reminds us that, just as there is still a path ahead of us with more choices to make and more life to live, there also has been a lot of life that has already been lived, in which choices have been made, consequences have been accepted, and memories have been created . In essence, time is the gift of a continually unfolding opportunity to form and maintain relationships, and to experience, to learn, and to grow. Time is the chance for a journey toward becoming a whole person over the lifetime we’ve each been given.
Time tapped on my shoulder a few times over the last year: when I attended my 30th college reunion last fall, when one of my daughters got married, when I became a grandfather this past summer, when I realized that my youngest daughter was taller than her sisters and her mother (and about to look me eye-to-eye), and when I saw our first foreign-exchange student from eleven years ago with her fiancée. But it truly slapped me in the face over the last week as I turned another year older and went back to my 35th high school reunion—the first time I’ve been back and seen many of my classmates in over 30 years.
Like many of today’s Houstonians, I wasn’t born here. Instead, I came here as a young man and chose this community as my home. Before dropping anchor here, I spent my first 22 years growing-up in Illinois, and I spent nine of those years—from 4th Grade through high school—living and attending school in Dunlap, Mossville and Chillicothe, Illinois, which are small towns near or along the Illinois River just north of Peoria in the middle of the state. This is the area of Illinois that is covered with farms, dotted with small towns, and home to Caterpillar’s international headquarters and many of its manufacturing facilities. It is smack dab in the middle of the region in which Reagan was born, raised and went to college, and where Lincoln rode the circuit.
I think I could speak for everyone who attended our reunion when I say that those nine years are still inside of each of us at our core. For good or bad, those years in which we attended school and church, played on athletic teams, were members of our first clubs, formed our first friendships, went on our first dates, accepted our first responsibilities, achieved our first successes, and made our first mistakes, created the relationships and experiences from which we learned our first lessons about life, and from which our adulthood started to grow. No matter how far we may have journeyed in life from those years and that place, the people we were and the relationships we had are still a part of who we are, and who we are becoming. We shared that time together—and all that we learned from it—and we always will have the relationships from that time to share together.
As I was saying my last good-byes Saturday night, a few final thoughts raced through my mind:
- I cherish the time I was given with these friends and the part of our separate life journeys that we’ve shared;
- These friends always have been, and always will be a part of me, and the journey I continue to take in life—no matter where our individual paths continue to lead us; and
- I am so blessed for the parents I had—and the parents we all had—who provided us with the opportunity to start on our life journeys with each other, and who gave us the maps with which we could start to navigate those journeys.
This morning my mind turned to a few lines from three poems by Robert Frost A few years ago, I realized for the first time that he wrote three poems, each seven years apart, between the ages of 35 and 49, which use the same imagery of a person contemplating journeys at the edge of, or in the middle of forests. Though two of these poems are re-printed and studied often, the first is rarely included among his poems that are widely read or studied. Since I first read these three poems together, I have found that reading them together, and in the order they were published, speaks to me more than reading any of them separately. Here they are:
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ‘twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.
Into My Own (originally, Into Mine Own),
New England Magazine, 1909)
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 kept 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.
The Road Not Taken,
The Atlantic Monthly, 1916
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,
The New Republic, 1923
These poems have a special meaning for me today, as I continue on the journey toward that person I am becoming.