Can't meet you this time," my brother said when I called to ask him to pick me up at the airport. He'd be in Ireland then. I'd have make my own arrangements for the three-hour final leg of the trip to our mother's house.
It wasn't easy. The bus from the airport to the nearest city would get me downtown too late to catch the evening train or the last bus. After many phone calls, I finally cobbled together a schedule: a second bus to the town where my brother's sweetheart lives, and a train the next evening to a station where Mum could pick me up.
A glowing sunset and a moon one day shy of full enhanced an otherwise ordinary flight. When we began our descent, it was full night. Still, I could see the plane's pewter-colored wing and the clouds spread below us like a vast, woolly blanket.
The plane was late; the bus connection too close for comfort. "You can't buy your ticket in advance," the woman at the bus company had said when I'd called. "Just stand at the limo sales counter. Drivers check there for passengers." By the time bags began parading past on the conveyor, I was keeping an anxious eye on the terminal door.
A couple of abandoned suitcases and a handful of travelers were all that lingered with me on the terminal's cavernous lower floor when the bus driver finally walked in. He helped carry my bags to the bus. When I saw I was his only passenger, I settled into a front seat.
"Where are you traveling from?" he asked, after a few silent miles. When I told him, he said he'd driven tour groups there for years. "I like the South," he said, "but want out of there by May. June at the latest."
"Summers are awfully hot."
"Don't mind the heat. It's the snakes I don't like."
We glided to a stop at an intersection; he wheeled us into a left turn. The two-lane highways we drove were deserted. Huge fields on either side lay fallow and flat, stretching toward dark scarves of trees. The clouds the plane had descended through had pulled back like a curtain.
"I've never been this route," I said. "Always took the interstate."
The bus followed back roads to an amusement park. There, he said, folks from the city, most of whom worked for the park, waited for a ride home. He pointed out the park's entrance as we slid past. Closed for the winter, a shadowy hoop of Ferris wheel gleamed dully, awaiting - like the surrounding fields and the empty bus - spring's renewing surge of life.
Out here on the road less traveled, I'd happened on something rich, however small: comfortable conversation with a stranger in a moonlit countryside I hadn't guessed existed, outside a city I'd always rushed past. An unexpected blessing for which to give thanks.
Another blessing awaited me the next night on the train as the same moon rose and hurtled through the dark: a voice -quiet and low-keyed - over the P.A. announcing, not a station, but a poem. I found the reciter later in the club car: a conductor, bent over a book, choosing what to read next. Yes, he wrote poetry. No, he hadn't brought any of his along. But these - he eagerly showed the books he'd packed for the long overnight trip to Montreal and back - these were worth tracking down. Before I debarked, he read twice more.
Next trip, my brother will meet me at the airport. I'll look forward to seeing his loved and expectant face at the end of my flight. We'll tool on up the interstate. I'll be glad to be riding with him, hearing the news of home. But I hope I'll remember this trip, and feel a twinge for roads not taken. I understand better now what Robert Frost meant about the roads you choose to travel down, and all the difference they make.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society