Yesterday morning I went to the memorial service for an ex-colleague of mine. It was both a sad and a joyful occasion. Sad because Chris died far too young, yet joyful because he was a man full of life and those of us who gathered had so many happy memories to share. He was interested in everything and always eager to pass his enthusiasms on to the students he taught and, through his media work, to the wider public. You couldn’t be bored around him because he would always have some new scrap of information that he had just discovered and which he was itching to pass on to all and sundry. As someone said, Chris bored was a dangerous to be around. He would have to find something to be interested in and given his extreme sense of humour that something could turn out to be dramatic.
I was surprised then when one of the poems chosen for the service was Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. I’m sure that you know it.
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.
If ever there was someone who travelled down as many roads as possible it was Chris.
I love this poem but more because I love the idea of taking the road less travelled and not being phased by society’s reaction than because I think it isn’t possible to deliberately step aside and take another way. I have a young friend who all her life has marched to the beat of a different drum and who, when she finishes university at the end of this year, already has a job lined up in a field that will bring her very little in the way of material or financial recompense but which will fill each day with hard work, friendship and gladness. She will take the road less travelled and she will make a tremendous difference. Chris also made a difference, but in his case because he took so many roads. I thought the other poetic choice was better thought through. Not perhaps of quite the same literary merit but very appropriate for a man who was always conscious of living in the land that inspired much of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
Chris was always looking for that new road, that secret gate and I shall miss sharing the news from strange places that he brought back with him from his wide ranging journeys.