Monday, October 19, 2015

But I have promises to keep...revisited

NOTE: Here is this month's "Blog Rerun" entry, in which we resurrect a post from the past. This one originally ran on May 21, 2012. It is one of my favorites and still very relevant to my life.

I was an English major in college, but I never was a big poetry guy. I can appreciate poetry, and the Jesuit professors at John Carroll University made me read plenty of it. But I'll take a good novel or short story over a 14-line sonnet any day.

There are exceptions, of course. My favorite poem is Sara Teasdale's "There Will Come Soft Rains." I almost have that one memorized (almost). And there's something to be said about "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot if you can understand it...not that I really do.

But do you know which poem I find myself coming back to time and again lately? It's one you might know by Robert Frost, called "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." Chances are good some teacher or other made you read it at some point. Chances are equally good you quickly forgot about it.

I, for whatever reason, can't forget it. Or more specifically, I keep reciting the last stanza to myself. It goes like this:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The protagonist is riding his horse one night and stops to admire some woods. There's something vaguely alluring about them, and you can feel how strongly tempted he is to ride into those woods and never come back.

But he can't. Somewhere back in the "real world" is something, or someone, that keeps him from riding off into oblivion. He has responsibilities. He has promises to keep.

Increasingly these days, I can relate. There is so much I need to do. There are so many things to accomplish. There are bills to pay, projects to finish, and most importantly, children to raise.

If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about. The work you and I do is important. And exhausting. Mentally, spiritually, physically exhausting. We give everything we have to our children because they deserve it. And because they need us. And simply because it's our job.

Strictly speaking, there is nothing "real" that ties us to it. There is nothing to physically restrain us from pulling up stakes and starting over somewhere else.

But 99.9% of moms and dads don't leave because they can't. They could no sooner separate from their children than they could from their own souls. Your kids are a part of you in every way. The reason we would die for them in a heartbeat is because they ARE us. There is literally no difference between us and them. There is no place where they end and we begin. They are part of us, and we are part of them.

There are times when I wonder what it would have been like if I had selected another life path. What if I had never met Terry? What if I hadn't gotten married? Or had five kids? What would I be doing? Would I have more money? Would I feel less tired? Would I spend more time on things I want to do than on things I feel I must do?

These thoughts are my "woods." They're what I very occasionally stop and consider. At times they seem "lovely, dark and deep." But never for a second are they serious thoughts. Never do they gain any real traction in my mind.

Why? Because like Frost's horseman, I have promises to keep. When I married my wife, I promised I would stay with her for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. And in truth, there has been a heck of a lot more "better" than "worse." It's not an especially difficult promise to keep.

The same goes for my children. I never took any formal oath to protect them, to feed them, to clothe them, or to guide them. I never actually said those words aloud. But the first time I held each of them and looked into their faces, I promised to do all of those things. Then and there, I made a promise that I would be their father for the rest of their lives, no matter what.

And those are promises I intend to keep. Even when something distracts me from the day-to-day mission of providing for a wife and five kids, those promises keep me pointed in the right direction.

One day there will be time for sleep. Not necessarily literal sleep – though that would be nice, too – but rather whatever God has in store for me in my "golden years" and beyond.

As a co-worker of mine used to say, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and it would all be over. But I like to think there are still many miles before I sleep.

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