Poetry Changed My Life

Nathan Rodgers
November 11, 2022

How poetry led me down unexpected paths.

I majored in history, philosophy and political science in college, but I also loved poetry.

I memorized “Oh Me! Oh Life” by Whitman.

The last line of that poem:

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

I wondered what my verse would be and how I could make it worthwhile.

I read and reread Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and knew that I wanted to take the “one less traveled”.

And while Thoreau’s memoir Walden wasn’t poetry, at the time I read it as such.

I was drawn to the freedom he felt, and that he chose to live life on his own terms.

Several quotes have stayed with me for over two decades as I have navigated the challenges and opportunities my life has brought.

The one that has influenced me the most:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Influenced by those lines, at 21 I made a decision.

While many friends from my small Midwestern college were making plans to get jobs and get married, I took a different path.

I knew I didn’t want to wake up at 40, or 60, and discover that I had not lived.

And I wanted my verse to matter, to make a difference in the lives of others.

So I joined the Peace Corps and set off to live in Ukraine.

Later, I would move to New York City and get a job with UNICEF.

UNICEF gave me a chance to live in Thailand and Nepal, while visiting dozens of countries I never imagined getting to see like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Maldives. I was able to hike in the Himalayas, visit ancient temples, and make friends all over the world.

But I felt mediocrity setting in and the lines of those poems came back to me.

So I took another less traveled road.

I quit my six-figure job and went looking for something that was mine.

Which is how I ended up in Colombia building a first-of-its-kind nature lodge near Medellin.

I thought I had found my place.

But circumstances I’ve discussed elsewhere led me to end my involvement in the hotel’s operations and management, start my own business, and then move to Florida for family medical reasons.

I’m 43 now, and though many things in my life aren’t what I expected them to be, I can look back and say that I have lived my life.

I have done my best to make the world around me better.

And there is still (hopefully) much life to go, new adventures and experiences to be had, and more people I can help.

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