Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 7, 2020

Jerome's "wheel of life"

I have a vivid memory that comes to me at times - a somewhat bittersweet memory now about 35 years old. It was after one of my graduate classes and I was in the student union on my way to meet my husband Jerome. I found him sitting at a table with a friend, a napkin in front of him with something he had drawn.

His words reminded me of Robert Frostís poem, "The Road Not Taken." When we are young, the path forward is all about sometimes difficult choices.

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; ...

As a youngster, I thought I wanted to be a nurse. A summer job as an aide in a nursing home changed my mind. I loved taking care of the residents, but I didn't think I could bear to lose them - a certainty given their ages and physical infirmities.

Friend Deb was planning on being an art teacher until she did practice teaching in grade school and high school. Chaos reigned and the experience seemed to be more about trying to keep order than teaching art.

But friend Bryceís first choice worked out well. He has known since he was young that he wanted to be a doctor - and he has pursued that profession all his life. At one time, he thought about combining it with a foreign service job.

I thought early on that I didn't have language/political knowledge skills ... and didn't know how to merge that with my real dream of being a doctor in my home area, but when I had dinner with the Alaska doctor who is a medical foreign service officer in Dakar in February, I felt a little pang of "what if ...?" Most medical doctors do it after 15 to 20 years of medical practice when their kids are leaving home. We were not equipped as a family to do that with our brood of kids spread out in years. ...

Husband Art knew almost from the start that he wanted to be an electrical engineer. Like Bryce, he considered pairing that with other interests, such as mathematics or biology, but circumstances kept him focused on his first choice.

At Kansas State University, I studied Russian, German, Spanish and French. I toyed with the idea of being in the foreign service as a diplomat. But my major was journalism, so being a foreign correspondent seemed like an exciting choice too.

After graduation, I joined Peace Corps, where I honed my Spanish skills and learned about the culture and customs of another country. When I returned, I was offered a job at a newspaper in Cawker City, Kansas, and one in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was not a difficult decision! The San Jose News experience was close to the foreign correspondent work I had dreamed of. It was also where I met Jerome, who had been a reporter for the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, but was then in the Peace Corps.

Art and I have often discussed how there are so many roads to take in life and no way of knowing with certainty where they'll lead. Sometimes choices are made for us, such as when I bumped into Jerome in a foreign land or his death as a young man a few years later. Others are like those in Frost's poem. We look at the options for a long time trying to imagine where they will lead and which may take us to where we think we want to go.

But choices inevitably lead to more choices until one day we find that rather than thinking about the road ahead and the decisions to be made, we are looking backward at how we came to be where we are. Frost's poem ends:

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.

His words can be read in several ways. His "sigh" may imply regret, but I am more inclined to see it as a sign of contentment mixed with a touch of wonder. How swiftly life has passed. And all those decisions? Different ones would have led to different outcomes, but who can say if they would have been better ... or worse?

Art's mother Donna was matter-of-fact about such things. When she was young, she had the opportunity to perform as a stage singer in New York. But her mother developed multiple sclerosis. Since Donna was the oldest, she was expected to stay home and help with her younger siblings. When she was approaching 100, she was asked whether she resented not being able to go to New York. She paused, smiled slightly and then answered, "That would have been an interesting life, but so is this one."

Art's high school classmate Neil recently said, "... I do hope that many other classmates of ours were ultimately as fortunate in life as we were, whatever the setbacks along the way - though I am always struck by the strong influence of random events in the pathway of any given life."

Bryce said, "I'm not sorry that I had the chance to be a dad and hometown doctor. ..."

Jerome's drawing of so many years ago was of a bicycle wheel. Pointing at the hub, he said, "Here we are in the center of this wheel of life - and look at all these spokes! Each of them represents a path we can take in life. So many choices!"

Now that I'm older, I can look back at my life and think of where some of those other spokes might have led me. But like Deb, Bryce, Donna, Neil and Art, Iím satisfied with the choices I made and where they have led.

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