I attended Robert Frost Elementary School. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was that the school was kind of “groovy” because there weren’t any walls in most of the building. None. I could stand in my fourth grade “learning space” and play my $2.00 plastic saxophone, and my brother could hear my “Taps” in his second grade “learning space” on the other side of the school.
As it turns out, the “no walls” approach was excellent if you were pursuing a Master’s degree in “Kum By Ya,” but it wasn’t an ideal way to educate grade schoolers.
No matter. The absence of walls really isn’t the point.
Robert Frost is the point.
I have exactly two poems memorized, word for word, and they’re both by Frost. One is “The Road Not Taken,” and the other is “Choose Something Like a Star.” Both were featured in musical selections by Randall Thompson, and I learned the poems because I sang the songs.
There are a few lines in “Choose Something Like A Star” that have always spoken to me:
“Say something to us we can learn by heart
And when alone repeat.”
The speaker goes on to plead, “Say something!” And the star merely says, “I burn.”
This isn’t enough for the speaker, desperate to know more about this beautiful — perhaps unknowable — entity. He goes on:
“But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit! Talk Centigrade!
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid.
But does tell something in the end.”
There is such power in the knowing and telling of stories — in knowing where we come from, who we are, what elements of life experience and ancestry, history and happenstance, have blended together to produce the universally-important Me.
Are my life choices more carefully made when I remember that my pioneer ancestors nearly died on the frozen plains of Wyoming? Am I a better, stronger, more significant contributor knowing that I descended from a signer of the Mayflower Compact? Does reflecting on the forty years my grandfather spent in the coal mines of eastern Utah increase in me a sense of gratitude, diminishing my impatience with life’s inconveniences?
I don’t know. The stories may well give me “strangely little aid.” But they do, in the end, reveal to me a bit more of — Me.
Frost describes the Star as “steadfast…not even stooping from its sphere.” The stories are what they are; the events they describe are past, the players long gone.
But in the last lines of the poem, we learn the power those stories can have in creating, sustaining, and shaping our own stories:
“When at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star,
To stay our minds on and be staid.”
“Tell me who I am!” man cries to the dark and distant heavens. And a voice whispers back, “I have. I’ve given you your stories.”
On these I will stay my mind. On these, my stories, I will be staid.
Note: DaNae Handy is our guest blogger for this article. Entertaining and insightful, DeNae is also one of the many excellent presenters at the Story@Home Conference hosted by FamilySearch on March 9-10, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah. For more conference info, see our blog post at FamilySearch.org.