Roads Not Taken
I attended our 20th class reunion, in 1992. I wanted to be treated as an accomplished successful person, but to them I was still just one of the guys.
This weekend, I travel to San Antonio to attend my 50th high school reunion. I confess to some surprise that I am even around to attemd such an event. I enjoyed my years in high school, and part of why I am going is to see how those expeirences shaped me and what hold, if any, they still exert on me. Frankly, my classmates have not been a big part of my life these last 50 years, nor I of theirs. What will this be like?
The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost)
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.
I have always loved this poem, with its elegiac theme of seizing a unique destiny – the road less traveled. In fact, I always misnamed the poem, “The Road Less Traveled,” until a smart friend of mine pointed out that’s not the title. The protagonist of the poem chooses what he thinks to be the less-traveled road, but “… the passing there / Had worn them really about the same, / And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” If that's the case, what is it that makes the one taken ultimately "the one less traveled by?"
What makes it "less traveled by" is that it is the road I chose, and although my journey may have much in common with yours and yours and yours, what makes it unique is ... me.
I am an alumnus of an all-boys Catholic high school in downtown San Antonio. There were about 200 in my graduating class, walking across the stage at the old Municipal Auditorium one fine May afternoon in 1972. I received, I think, one hell of an education, including a curiosity about the world and an interest in social justice and the Good Society that have been major themes in my life.
My high school years teased me with the possibilities of a world beyond high school, beyond San Antonio. One of my teachers, Brother Martin McMurtrey of happy memory, lassoed a few of us into a study project on poverty in San Antonio. I learned that San Antonio was the 10th largest city in America, something I’d never have guessed. It was also the poorest – something I also would never have guessed. We did a report on how to eliminate poverty in San Antonio. I’m sure none of our recommendations were even remotely feasible in the real world of political horse-trading, but this and other experiences fixed my eye on the possibility I could help solve big problems in a bigger world.
Once I graduated, I was out of there – the school, my classmates and friends, my parent’s home, San Antonio. I went off to college in another state, returning to Texas only for the summers, which I spent as a camp counselor 100 miles from San Antonio. Although I cherished many of my classmates, I did not make much of an effort to stay in touch with any but a few. My horizons were much larger than the city limits of San Antonio, I felt.
After my first year of college, I returned to San Antonio in time to attend my high school’s annual festival in early May. Wandering among the raffle tickets, dunking booths, and turkey legs, I saw a classmate who proudly introduced me to his wife and newborn baby! Holy crap! He’d gotten married and had a baby in less than a year after graduating! I remember thinking how structured and tied down his future must have looked to him, with a wife and child so soon after graduating from high school. My life principle then (as now) was keep your options open. In truth, his opportunities were no less marvelous than mine, just different; something it's taken me most of my lifetime to realize. “Both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.”
A few of us stayed in touch after graduation – letters, summer camping trips, meet-ups to drink beer and listen to Willie Nelson at John T. Floore’s Country Store. Although my affection and bond of brotherhood with them remained, our communications and time together fizzled out as career, relationships and family asserted themselves as priorities. “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.“
I attended our 20th class reunion, in 1992. I don’t know what I expected, but the experience was unsatisfying, to put it mildly. In retrospect, I wanted to be treated as an accomplished successful person, but to them I was still just one of the guys – who, by the way, saw themselves as accomplished successful people. I even won, to my ongoing mortification, a prize for having gained the most weight since we’d graduated. I stayed away from reunions and other class activities for the next 30 years.
But the internet changed everything, as it is wont to do. A group of my fellow grads who had kept in touch with each other over the years created a Facebook page for our class. Once I was a member, I knew about the beer and burger nights, bowling, golf, and other ways in which they maintained their fellowship. I was updated on jobs, and kids, and vacation trips to cool places. I also came to know, as 40 years became 45 and edged closer to 50, of the deaths of some of us.
And so, after 50 years in which I was not really a presence in the life of my classmates, some subset of the class will gather this weekend, including, I hope, some of my best friends from those days of my life. What is the point, especially since we have become senior citizens? We can relive (for the umpteenth time) the game-winning 30-yard pass, the buzzer-beating three-point shot, the ROTC drill team championship – but who cares? Will we want to talk about those things, or about the men we’ve become – the wins and losses at life we’ve endured, and the role our time together in high school had in shaping us? That would be an interesting series of conversations, and I’m looking forward to it.