...Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high to bring you home
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears...
excerpt from "To An Athlete Dying Young"
I met him when we were both college freshmen. We graduated high school the same year in towns eight miles apart, and he was the kind of person who immediately made others feel they'd always known him. The freshman year is when the circle of friends widens - high school friends of dormmates come to visit, and soon the world is bigger and better. Such it was with Rob.
I was reading Housman poems in Freshman English back then, picking them apart, every word holding more meaning than a nineteen-year-old would originally think. I worked at learning how to get inside the mind of a poet...while Rob was across campus, learning how to breed cattle. Animal Husbandry he called his major. This city girl had never heard of it.
One weekend the future farmer took me to his family's farm. So many cows in one place! It was a dairy farm then, and Rob called me over to see the special cow, being milked just at that time. He said, "Look, this cow has a square hole." Just as I bent over to look at the hole, I got a face full of fresh milk. He laughed himself silly over that one, although I'm sure he'd pulled that trick thousands of times.
Later that afternoon, he took me for a ride through the country on his motorcycle, my first ride out in the open air like that. I was reminded of an Anne Morrow Lindbergh book I had recently read. She described her first airplane flight with her future husband, Charles. She talked about feeling so free, seeing everything from a different perspective...with the wind in her hair.
That's how that ride felt to me...and that day on the farm. I had a renewed perspective, one altogether different the next day when I poured milk on my cereal.
The years went by, like that wind on that day, and Rob and I went on with our lives, our marriages, and our families. But Rob Hogan taught me the meaning of simpler things, the love of farm animals, and what being kind to people is all about. I've seen him a couple of times over the years. We've laughed at how far we've come - with ever-growing families and responsibilities.
But yesterday when he died, I felt like we were still there - nineteen years old with our lives before us. To me, Rob will always be that college kid with the beautiful smile, even though now he's somewhere in a dreamy pasture, playing the square hole joke on angels.