The road taken

Ed Smith
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“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler,
long I stood ...”
We’ve all been there. Trying to decide between one course of action and another. Not knowing which would be best, not knowing what path would be a serious error in judgment, or lead to mistakes further along the way.

“And both that morning equally

lay ...”

The choices aren’t always like two branches of one road going in two distinctly different directions, as in Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” More often the various options are like the Mississippi River Delta with a myriad of different “roads” leading in a thousand different directions. “... Knowing how way leads on to way”, there is no way of telling how or where one will end up.

Nowhere is this choice of alternatives more pronounced or more crucial than in trying to decide on a career. Warren Buffett is a good example.

Buffett, worth an estimated $40 billion, is currently the second richest man in the world. He didn’t win a huge lottery. He didn’t inherit a fortune from the family business. Warren Buffett set out from the beginning to make himself rich.

I don’t know how many people do that. I listen to the plans senior high students have for their futures and have yet to hear of anyone deliberately setting out to make a fortune.

One of my young friends wants a career in the military. One of my granddaughters wants to go to Third World countries and help children who have no future.

Two others are going into nursing. Another granddaughter, now a junior in university, wants to be a teacher.

“Service to others” seems to be the basic theme and it says a great deal about the basic character of young people coming out of our schools.

So what’s with this fellow Buffett and others like him? Do they have no sense of those less fortunate? How does he compare with people who want to dedicate their lives to helping the less fortunate? Is he just a pretty selfish individual? Or are the rest of us just plain stupid?

When I left high school at the age of 15, I had one thought which had been with me for as long as I could remember. I wanted to be a Christian minister. Those who remembered me in my growing up as being “a little lower than the angels,” thought that was pretty funny.

But I was deadly serious. While still an adolescent I read a book called “The Bishop’s Mantle.” The main character was a priest in the Episcopalian church (I think) and I really related to him. He was not only a great minister, but a man’s man as well. He had no time for what he called the “blood and gore” theology espoused by so many denominations.

But, most of all, my father was a minister and I admired him tremendously. Like the hero of my book, he related to people who had an enlightened view of the Bible and Christian doctrine. He was more concerned with the truth of the Word rather than whether or not every word was true. I was with him all the way. Still am.

It took me three years to realize I was certainly not my father or the priest in the novel.

Fifty years ago people had expectations of the minister that I considered unrealistic. I enjoyed the work and I didn’t lose my basic faith. But I couldn’t be what many good people wanted and expected me to be. When I returned to university for my fourth year, I began looking down the major roads that diverged into my future. Still didn’t focus on money.

I had always felt that the two most noble professions in our world were healing and teaching.

Those two appealed to me and I looked closer at them. Toward the end of my undergraduate degree I had chosen McGill as my medical school.

But then life interfered, as it so often does. I had an infant daughter and another on the way. Another three or four more years of school seemed to be a long, long time. Accordingly, I turned my focus to my other love, teaching, and the rest is history. Actually, English and administration.

Warren Buffett says he decided early to be filthy rich. At age 10 on a trip to New York he visited the New York stock exchange. By age 26, he was worth well over $1 million (inflation adjusted).

In 2009, he was named the world’s richest man worth more than $60 billion. He and Bill Gates, currently the world’s richest man are close friends. I am not a close friend of either, falling just short of the entry fee.

I’ve had friends say when we’ve been talking about choices in careers that while Buffett and Gates became rich, others gave themselves to the betterment of humanity: Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Karen Huxter, Doctors Without Borders and many, many others who have died and will die penniless.

Ah yes, you say, but they gave themselves to suffering humanity. That’s the nobler gift.

Both Gates And Buffett have pledged to give 95 per cent of their wealth to charity. They have challenged other wealthy persons to do the same. I didn’t get that email.

Ah yes, you say, but they still have billions left over. True, but that doesn’t diminish the incredible effect of what they do give.

I’ve been thinking about those examples I’ve mentioned above and the thousands more like them who gave and are giving all they have.

There is no question but that theirs is the nobler sacrifice. One wonders if there is any way to compare what they have done for humanity to that given by the fabulously wealthy.

“I took the road less traveled by,” Frost ended his poem, “and that has made all the difference.”

How is that difference to be evaluated in human terms? And perhaps most important to those choosing a future — Made all the difference to whom?

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.  His email address is

Organizations: Episcopalian church, Doctors Without Borders

Geographic location: New York, Springdale

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    December 07, 2013 - 10:04

    Enjoyed your piece. I am an admirer of both Warren Buffett and Wilfred Grenfell. Grenfell was fianced by wealthy USA charitable donations. I beleive Buffett gave away 25 billion. I am uncertain who is the greater person. There is the story of the widows mite, who gave while having very little. And there was the rich man who told Jesus he gave 25 percent to the poor. Relatively speaking, Buffett gave more than 25 percent, yet perhaps not as much as the widow. And I think Buffett would acknowledge that the widow gave more. He has called for a higher tax rate on the rich like himself. I guess the highest virtue is for those who give much, but give it in secret, isn't this so?