It has been a century since Robert Frost penned the words to The Road Not Taken, and it has been a half century since I had to memorize that poem for my high school English class.
There are two backstories of the poem and the motivation that pushed Frost to write it, which he published in 1916. The first is that it reflected issues and discussions with a friend while in England just prior to WWI. The first is the naissance of the poem. However, great poetry comes alive in different times and places, and we need to see and acknowledge its meaning today, a century later, as we walk in the woods of life.
The second backstory is of the poet, Robert Frost. His life was anything idyllic. He lost his father when he was 11, resulting in the Frost family having almost no money and having to live in abject poverty. His mother died when he was 20. Two decades later, his sister committed suicide. Frost married and his wife had six children. One died of cholera, one committed suicide, one died due to complications while she gave birth to her child, and another died a couple of days after birth. Only two of their children outlived Frost. Frost's wife had both breast cancer and heart problems and died during the Depression while she was in her early 40s. His life was a long series of dancing with deaths of family members.
Interestingly, Frost not only looked like Bobby Kennedy, but their lives paralleled dancing with death and suffering. However, as unfair life was for them, they faced life with honesty and drive. Both of them were men in the arena.
Which brings me to the reason for this essay, I have done the dance twice and benefitted greatly. I enjoy my life; I truly do. However, what rattles me is the nonsense of those Republicans running for nomination as their party's candidate for president. Kennedy echoed Frost, "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it."
I have mentioned Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Trump and Cruz, in last Wednesday's essay. I cannot change them, but I can attempt asking some of their followers to pause and to think.
One of the advantages of doing the dance is that the dance does wake you up to living. While I don't possess any wealth, one of my legacies that I do process is my love of teaching, and it is on steroids due to the dances. Think about your beliefs system. Think about your legacy. When you dance your final dance with death, what will you leave your family, friends, and the world? We all will leave them three things but in differing percentages: money, objects, and their memory of us.
This next comment is purposely designed to make you think. I do so knowing that I am on the same dance floor as you. However, unless you have done the dance, you are not aware of it.
This is about a possible legacy some might have to leave the world. Some might die and leave a lot of money and things. However, what they leave also is a memory of them believing that they are right. Let me run through some people who have died and mention the memory that their family and world have of them.
Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Stalin, and more recently Mao and bin Laden are a handful of examples. Now, you will say, "Hey, Campbell, they were jerks. Just go to YouTube and see what they did to their people and the rest of the world." Well, I agree...to a point.
However, each one of those jerks had, at one time, loads of followers who truly thought that they were the greatest leader in the world. There would have been millions of people who would have given their lives to protect those leaders. I would tell you also to go to YouTube and look at those jerks just as they emerged as leaders. They had millions of supporters.
Next, let's move closer to home. Thomas Jefferson is immortalized for his statement, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." That is the opening line of the Declaration of Independence. We cherish his beliefs. Well, that is true if you are a white male. That single sentence is both racist and sexist. Black slaves on Jefferson's plantation did not cherish Jefferson's view of them. They were slaves and weren't "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Additionally, if you are a female, it hasn't been a century yet since women could vote. Interestingly, if you were Sally Hemmings, who was his slave and a female, you would bear four children all of whom had Jefferson as their father. That was Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner and a sexist.
Far more recently, George Wallace, Bull Connor, James Eastland, Lester Maddox, Orville Faubus, John Stennis, William Fulbright, George Smathers, Robert Byrd, and Strom Thurmond were all racists during the civil rights movement. Interestingly, Strom Thurmond learned from Jefferson about combining racism and sexism. He disliked blacks but could have his version of Sally Hemmings.
How would you like to be a family member of any of those above mentioned racist leaders? Imagine the legacy that is left to you. In addition to racism and sexism, we are still dealing with homophobia, healthcare reform, and addressing poverty. Name any social movement in America. The conservatives have attempted to retard all those movements. That retardation is tied to their own personal retardation.
You and I are going to leave this world with a legacy. Think about that legacy. None of us is perfect. We have all made mistakes in judgment and actions. That is a given. However, cowering behind those mistakes is a mistake, which merely continues that legacy.
Frost said in 1916, a century ago,
Kennedy added, "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." What remains for each of us is about our legacy that we will leave our family and the world. Steve Biko answered that question in South Africa, "I would rather die for a cause that will live than live for a cause that will die."
This is a video of Frost's poem:
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