Early Morning Frost
During the First Gulf War and around that time before and after, the U.S. Navy sent out letters to some ordained ministers, inviting us to be Navy chaplains. The Army did that too, and one minister in Apalachicola resigned his pastorate to be commissioned an Army chaplain, and the last I heard he was quite happy in his new life and ministry.
The Navy sent me that letter invitation at least twice over a period of several years. Each time, it stopped me in my thoughts if not in my tracks. The idea went through my mind, I -- ruminated is the right word -- on it at least half seriously. Maybe because once you have been in a military service it becomes a part of your being, not just who you were but who you know deep inside, and who you like being and know that you always will be. I have been an Episcopal priest over thirty years, but I am first and foremost a Naval officer and have been so for 57 years this month, perhaps this very day, and as a retired officer am even still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. My tippet has the Navy uniform hat insignia that Linda gave me for Christmas 1959, the year I was promoted to lieutenant junior grade, and I've thought several times about having my gold stripes sewed onto it.
Brings this to mind, a Facebook exchange after a friend reported just having received a similar letter, though not to be a chaplain. In my case, I let the idea go after having looked into it to see that the age limit was forty, which I was well and truly years past. But this morning the memory of it all returns as the FB chat continues and I read a FB comment from someone that her father was offered an age waiver. Usually I’m not stupid, but asking for an age waiver never even occurred to me. Looking back, I think the Navy would have taken me up on it, and my reaction is deitydammit2hell why didn’t I think of that.
Why this, now? Well, I’m strange, but I'm not all that different from other people. Everyone looks back in life and wonders what might have been at various crossings or divergences, places where, as Robert Frost said and I myself heard him read it aloud sixty years ago, “two roads diverged in a yellow wood ...” If you haven’t looked back, I guarantee you will by the time you reach my age and are looking over the mountain peak and down the other side. How would life have been if, where would I be this morning, or would I be at all? And what about those I so dearly love and have loved and did love? In my life of surely dozens or scores of two roads diverging in yellow woods, how might taking Robert Frost’s other road have changed what is? Will there someday be Time travel, and would I like to try it? “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back,” what if I could, would I?
The idea of possibly having been able to wear the Navy uniform again, and serve at sea again, and stand on deck as my ship enters port and ties up at a new dock again rekindles the thoughts I had after I received my Navy letter, and stirs more “what ifs” than I ever imagined would be restless inside me when I got out of bed this morning. Sorry I could not travel both ... I stood ... . I'm standing.
Like a sermon, part of the idea of a blog post can be to stir in others their own adventures. A sermon to me is a special success if someone didn’t hear the end of it because they got so caught up in what I was saying that they wandered off in themselves down roads of their own.
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.