Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The road

For Marcel Proust it was a madeleine, but for me yesterday it was a roundabout. Friends are currently staying with us, and yesterday we had a Day Out to an area that I visited a lot when I was at University but hadn't gone back to for years. As I drove us home afterwards I came to a fork where the A-road split into two at a small roundabout. Left would have taken me back to University, right was the way to take us all back home. (Swann's way, indeed!)

For a second I was seized with a desire to turn left and return to my student lodgings and the past. The feelings that I had as an undergraduate came flooding back: excitement, anxiety, a sense of exhilarating freedom. I found it difficult to leave home when I first went to University and had gradually built up a sense of confidence in myself and my ability to live independently. Learning things was fun, but the ever-present threat of examinations and the thought that one day I would have to do this for real placed a cloud of worry on the horizon. And I had a sense of freedom which came from having no dependants, relatively simple personal needs that were all fulfilled, and the opportunity to do many interesting things. Although I always thought of myself as rather dull, in retrospect I got up to quite a lot during my student years. I did not think about the future very much but it seemed an open book – the world was my oyster.

More than twenty-five years later the course of my life is most definitely fixed: my career as a GP is two-thirds over, my children are grown up, I hope very much that I shall not be in need of a new wife. I do not regret this at all (like Edith Piaf je ne regrette rien). My pang of loss was for the freedom and raw potential of a life as yet unmapped. My children (and I suppose my patients) cannot imagine that I could have been any other way. Only I know that what I am is but one of many potential people that I might have been. Robert Frost put it nicely:
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.
I don't think the poet was saying that he had made the wrong choice. What both he and I were regretting was that our choices have left the other roads untravelled, the other lives unlived.
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 am now determined to make the most of this road that I am travelling, and to do different and interesting things as far as its constraints will allow.


Ms-Ellisa said...

I loved your post dr brown... Yes there are many roads to chose from but one has to pick just one, but still you can have a few pics of the other roads too - even just for a couple of hours, you can be someone else, with the people you love...
I'm only 20 but I went to the same school for 12 years, and I miss it very much. But one of the things I like most is when I get the friends that I have now and we visit the place - it is a pic of the past, of what I felt then when I didn't know if I would be a medical student (or if I wanted to be a medical student for that matter) it makes me feel happy and satisfied with my life, I feel nice about the "road I chose". I see my friends laughing near me and you get a feeling of "whatever else I could have done it wouldn't be better than this"...
The examle may be a bit of course, but I hope you'll understand what I mean...
The poem by Frost is really great. It was also read in the film "Dead poet's society"...
I myself prefer Walt Whitman :-)
Great post.............
*goes off to think*

Dr Andrew Brown said...

Thanks, Ms-Ellisa.
Make sure you keep in touch with your old friends as well as your new ones.
I don't know Whitman very well, I have the impression that he tends to go on a bit. :-)
There are several good quotes attributed to Robert Frost. The one I like particularly is: "Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence".

A. said...

And for me, it's the smell of rain on parched earth that transports me back, back to Africa and the relief that the rains have come at last. The smell of freshly mown grass takes me back somewhere else. Smells - I wonder why ...

I don't ever go back now, if I can avoid it. I find it somehow distressing: routes that are no longer available perhaps.

Yes, make the most of the road you are on, but that doesn't mean you are on a narrow and restrictive path. When my sons went to university, I went back too and took an MSc in a subject that I had wanted to study for years. As well as working.

We're of a new generation - unlike our parents, we aren't elderly when we turn whatever age is designated (I hope!). There is still a great deal to explore. We just need to rekindle those feelings of excitement.

And I'd like to bet there are plenty of people who would think your particular route has been fascinating.

Dr Andrew Brown said...

A.: At medical school they told us that the part of the brain which recognises smells (the "rhinencephalon") is primitive, i.e. developed early on during evolution. This is why smells can have such a visceral effect on us.
It's human nature to wonder what might have been. But I've had many blessings while travelling along my road, for which I am very grateful. I do not complain!