I’m going to be having a birthday in a few months. A really BIG birthday. Frankly, I don’t even want to think about it. But here’s the thing: I’m the baby. Not just in my family, but also among my friends. So gradually, one by one, I’m watching all of my good friends hit this particular milestone. Two of them did it last week alone. So as their birthdays are ticking by and I’m having conversations with them like, “How does it feel?” I’m being forced to think about it. And I’m just not enjoying it.
I’ve been trying to figure out why. After all, having the birthday sure beats the alternative. And it’s just another day in your life. Really no different than all the other birthdays that have come and gone.
I think it’s more than the size of the number. I think it’s the feeling that a lot of opportunities are gone and can’t be reclaimed. It’s too late to do a lot of things I considered doing, but decided against. It’s too late to change the things that have happened, good and bad. It’s too late to choose different paths.
I wonder if there actually is that parallel universe that poets and writers theorize about. I’d like to know what I’m doing in that parallel universe — how things turned out. Am I a lawyer? Did I know anything about Robert Wendland, except perhaps to hear about his case on the news? Did my mother buy me that flute I wanted so desperately as a child? Did I major in music? Am I married? Do I have kids? What do they look like?
So with all of that swirling around in my head, I’ve found myself thinking about this Robert Frost poem a lot lately. I’ve always loved it. Funny how it seems to have a lot more meaning now than when I first discovered it back in high school. (Yeah, I hear you laughing.)
I guess that’s how it works. How it is supposed to work, right?
The Road Not Taken
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.
Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.