I have a grandson who is a senior engineering student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. We recently discussed his desire to go into ministry, even though he will have a prestigious degree from a prestigious university and could probably land a job making six figures when he graduates in May. Yes, I’m very proud of him. Proud of him for many reasons.
He’s maintained a 3.3 average at one of the top STEM universities in the country and remained on full academic scholarship all four years. This from a young man who excels in writing and the arts. So it’s a stretch to pursue science degree when your knack is for humanities.
I’m more proud that he is willing to forgo a career where he could earn more money than anyone in his family before him ever imagined because he knows, in his heart, what will make him happy. What will make him grow. What his real vocation in life is.
“The Road Less Traveled,” by Robert Frost goes like this:
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.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”
Refers to the divergent paths the solitary narrator encounters on his autumnal journey and represent the difficult choices we must often make alone. The bifurcation point.
“Because the grass wanted wear”
Refers to the path the narrator chooses—a less frequently traveled path. Only for the brave, the adventuresome.
Although this blog post is not about my grandson, I must tell you about his bravery, his adventuresome nature.
Dane went to Japan and China on a ten-day civil engineering trip during the spring semester. He was determined to see Mount Fuji so he left his group over the weekend and raveled alone, took trains and buses to the end of the line, then walked into the Japanese county side and sent us selfies of himself with Mount Fuji over his shoulder.
A sight to behold.
This summer he went to Scotland, England, and France for two classes in historic structures and structures that have withstood the test of time. He tutored students and got part time jobs to raise enough money to purchase a hiking pack that had all the essentials for scaling the terrain that not many have the nerve to attempt. And he did it alone.
Dane left his fellow students behind because none were interested enough to wake up early, travel across the country, and risk missing their flights back. Dane knew this might be the only opportunity he would have at his age, and physical stage, to hike through Scotland and then through the Swiss Alps, determined as he was to see the Scottish highlands, the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Swiss Matterhorn.
He did it.
I won’t tell you how he dislocated his shoulder falling down a snowy mountainside, how his feet bled, how he was homeless in Scotland having missed the last train back to his hostel in London, how he had nothing to eat, how he sacrificed drinking beer in pubs with his friends so he could take the road less traveled.
Alone, in isolation.
What I will tell you is that hiked 20 miles in Switzerland to 9.000 feet elevation and was almost killed, but he saw the north face of the Matterhorn.
Which brings me back to bifurcation: Oh, did I mention that’s what this blog is about? Webster says that to bifurcate is to, “ divide or fork into two branches.”
So the day Dane told me he had accepted an internship in ministry at his church rather than one with one of the top civil engineering firms in the country we talked about bifurcation. How do you know when you reach a fork in the road? How do you decide which road to take?
I told Dane about an experience I had after my son, Paul, who was married and at the time had three children (he now has five). I was in my quilting stage and asked Paul to bring me all his sports memorabilia so I could make a quilt from all the things he held precious during his formative years.
Paul had been a stand-out football quarterback and baseball player from four-years-old through high school and I fully expected him to receive a college scholarship in either sport; yet he didn’t receive bids to any universities. (although he walked-on at three different colleges. That’s another story for another time.)
Let’s back up. When Paul was eight and his sister, Mary (Dane’s mother) was twelve, their dad and I divorced. We had an amicable separation, but divorce is divorce and boys taken away from their dads suffer. So when Paul went to high school I agreed he could go to live with his dad in our hometown, about 30-miles from where his sister and I lived.
Back to the quilt: So Paul brought me several boxes of sports memorabilia, which I spread out on my basement floor to decide what to include in this masterpiece. Among his Little League baseball shirts and middle school football jerseys, I found about 20 letters from colleges and universities that were sent to his dad’s address when Paul was a junior in high school. These were recruitment letters from coaches inviting Paul to UCLA, Stanford, LSU, Georgia, Florida, and many other Division One colleges to talk to them about playing football and/or baseball.
This is the bifurcation: none of the letters had been opened—a fork in the road no one knew about, because Paul’s dad thought the letters were junk mail and threw them all in the box with Paul’s glove from first grade and his shoulder pads from sixth.
I sat on my basement floor, read each letter, and cried.
Paul had dreamed of playing college, and then professional sports from the time he could hold a ball. He was not only talented enough, he had the discipline and bravery to do it. The same strength and bravery Dane had when he hiked alone in Japan, Scotland, and Switzerland.
When I told Dane the story of the unopened recruitment letters he said, “Maddy, that’s the way God works. Paul might never have taken the path he took if he had known.”
It made me stop. And think.
My son, Paul, has a degree in kinesiology from Louisiana College and a masters degree in theology from the University of Dallas. No dummy. Certainly not a slougher (sluffer).
Paul chose a career in ministry. He somehow, through the grace of God, supports a family of seven doing what he does: speaking, touring, counseling, mentoring. His first book, “Rethink Happiness,” was published this year. It’s doing very well.
His bifurcation point—his path taken—has brought him happiness, a strong faith, a blessed and full marriage, five beautiful, smart, wonderful children, a fulfilling career.
Paul might have played professional football. That was a path. He might have had concussions, CTE, permanent injuries. He might have had three wives, lost his faith, made and lost lots of money.
Might doesn’t matter.
What Dane tried to tell me—what my grandson taught me the day we talked about this—bifurcation happens in everyone’s life. Often. Without warning. Without preparation. Sometimes without knowledge.
When it happens to you will you take the road less traveled or will you take the tried and true path?
Does it matter?
It’s what you make of the path you choose that matters.
I chose the path of a fiction author. Last week I wanted to quit.
Writing is hard. Damn hard. It’s lonely. And isolating.
I was trying to make the revisions to my new novel, “Lilly,” that my editor sent me. They were hard; harder than hard. Some didn’t make sense. If I change this, it changes these other scenes. If I reverse the scenes, what will it do to the outcome? If I rearrange this it means I have to rewrite the entire chapter. If I eliminate a chapter, readers will be lost.
One bifurcation point after another. Hard. Damn hard.
What to do?
I reached a fork and took the road less traveled. The road of bravery. Of adventure. The same road my grandson took in Japan and Europe. The road my son took when he pursued a masters degree in theology while supporting four children, his study place in a closet.
I guess we are an adventuresome family.
When I look back on my 60+ years of life I realize I’ve had so many bifurcation points I can’t count them. I usually took roads less traveled; and if I didn’t, I hope I’ve made the best of the roads I took, because that’s what matters.
I hope you have, too.