Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- “The Road Not Taken” [Robert Frost]
I meant to write this post weeks ago, but I couldn’t find the words to express what I wanted to say.
Grief is hard to manage in that way. Loss leaves you speechless, dumbfounded. It was quite apparent as I sat with friends from different corners of the States—Atlanta, California, New York. Many of us were entirely unacquainted, yet brought together to celebrate the well-lived life of one who had marked us. It was familiar, and yet unfamiliar. The one who connected us was not among us, but we were connected nonetheless. In each one, there was some of him. It felt like a birthday party. We laughed. We danced. We played. But the birthday boy never showed up. And so we cried. We talked. We listened. We reminisced. We were united for a night, to bond and then disperse. Though unacquainted and unfamiliar—somewhat awkward and utterly diverse, eventually acquainted and familiar—it was so him, so Davis.
I have told more than one person in my life that Davis Inghram is the coolest person I know. And by more than one person, I mean several people. And by several people, I mean that basically any time I mention Davis Inghram I deliberately insert a comment about his superlative status of coolness.
Davis broke the boundaries of cool: he effortlessly redefined its essence. He wasn’t predictable. He wasn’t ordinary. He was in a class of his own. He marched to the beat of his own drum.
He’s the only person I know who had a habit of making random beeping noises periodically. He’s the only person I know who had contracted a self-imposed speech impediment that caused him to add t’s after n’s. [And therefore he’s the only person I know who greeted me with “Good mornting!” on a regular basis.] He’s the only person I know who actually pulled off space boots. He’s the only person I know who ordered meatless burgers at In-N-Out. He’s the only person I know who wore earplugs to concerts to protect his hearing. He’s the only person I know whose pearly white smile sliced awkwardness and could make even stones bare a grin. He’s the only person I know who regularly wore big, black spectacles, just for fun. He’s the only person I know who bought and ate carrots from the grocery store when we made late night runs for Boba milk tea. He’s the only person I know who had a particular and quite intense affinity for the number five. He’s the only person I know who sang to strangers on public transportation. He's the only person I know who promised to use the money he won from us in poker to buy us all sushi. He’s the only person I know who kept a flap of skin pealed on his index finger, just for…well, I don’t exactly know why. He’s the only person I know who could play virtually any song on the piano [or, as he would say, “the pianto”] by ear. He’s the only person I know who recited Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" from memory in the middle of Barnes and Noble.
I think it a fitting poem for him to know by memory and share between the stacks of creative giants because it tells so much of who he was. Davis was one such giant [or prodigy, as his Yahoo! email address unashamedly suggested]. He was indeed one who took the road less traveled by.
His individuality and originality did not isolate him, as one might be inclined to think. In fact, his eccentricities drew people in. He seemed to be a magnet for the random and eclectic, creative and athletic, intellectual and sociable. An ever-expanding tapestry of beautifully interwoven friendships surrounded him everywhere he went. Everyone loved him. He didn’t belong to one “group”; he belonged to every group. No, he made his own group. Wait, no. He was his own group. Actually, nope. Groups didn’t matter much to him; he transcended social stratification.
If I could guess, people were drawn to Davis because he was free. He didn’t subscribe to, abide by, or follow what the culture around him was doing. He was himself. He did what he wanted when he wanted because he wanted. And in this way, his freedom put others at ease. He created a safe space for people to be themselves without fear of rejection. In a world craving authenticity, Davis freed others to be authentic. Because he didn’t fit the mold, you knew that around him, you didn’t have to either. He was him, and you could be you.
Davis taught me it’s OK to be me. I don’t have to hide my quirks: I can and should be me. After all, being me might prove to be a more effective strategy for making friends [or at least that seemed to work really well for him].
He sure had a way of bringing people together. Hanging out with Davis usually meant hanging out with a bunch of people you wouldn’t ever have considered hanging out with before. He built bridges between people and was a real force of unity. He broke social norms. He took the road less traveled. But it worked for him.
Being friends with Davis has taught me that people aren’t always as they seem. There’s more than meets the eye, and that “more” is worth figuring out. Breaking the norm and bringing together diverse groups of people is worth it.
Davis’ magnetic personality was also due, in part, to the fact that there was not an ounce of superiority or self-obsession in him. And while there was so much about him that was laid bare, unapologetically, there for the whole world to see, he held a lot back in humility. You wouldn’t have guessed that he was an absolute genius or that he was a musical prodigy or that he got to vote for the Grammy’s or that he was quite possibly the coolest person you would ever meet. He didn’t have to praise himself to prove himself. In fact, he didn’t even seek to prove himself. He knew and lived out the truth that who he was mattered more than what he did.
One of his songs says, “If you were to look into my brain, it would be insane.” I really think it would. I can’t imagine what you would find. He had a way with music, a way with sound, a way with people, and a way with words. I’m fairly certain he could have talked himself out of anything. Class presentations were always a treat. You knew things were going to be good when he furrowed his brow, lowered his voice, looked past the audience into some endless abyss in the distance, and brought out big words to explain little things. He had a way of making something sound much more significant and complicated than it actually was.
Most of all, Davis valued, sought after, and embodied love. To him, love was life: everything boiled down to love. We’re here to love, we’re made for love, and what we leave behind will be our love. Many late nights [more than I was present for, I’m sure] heard Davis discussing the purpose and meaning of our earthly existence. Davis sought truth and dug for depth. He wasn’t satisfied with church answers or easy escapes. He challenged conventional language, overused jargon, vocabulary rendered meaningless over time, to get at the essence of the matter.
Sure, we can say that our purpose is “to glorify God”, but what does that even mean? What does it mean to glorify? Could it mean we’re meant to love God with every facet of our being?
And so we’re back to love.
For Davis, love is it. Love is the standard. Love is the means. Love is the end. His philosophy of love has spurred my own fascination with the matter. His preoccupation with love has prompted me to consider what, who, and how I love. His embodiment of love has caused me to strive for that, to ooze love.
The challenge is that love is the road less traveled by. Love is not entirely natural to who we are—at least not true, rightly ordered love. Love is the harder way. Love requires self-gift, often for the undeserving. Love encourages hope in the midst of despair. Love sees beauty in broken things with unapparent, unrealized potential. Love is a paradox.
And yet, Davis lived it. He welcomed the challenge. He lived the paradox. He walked this unworn, grassy road. And because of that, because he abided in the eternal power of love, he left a legacy. A beautifully worn path. Footprints that cannot be hidden, only followed. A stamp that stains hearts.
Because love is stronger than death, and love is all that will remain.
Davis, thank you for being the coolest person I know. Thank you for your legacy of love. Thank you for challenging me to love. Thank you for loving past differences. Thank you for loving despite differences. Thank you for appreciating diversity. Thank you for seeing in people what they or others did not see. Thank you for smiling. Thank you for sharing yourself. Thank you for being yourself. Thank you for teaching me that it’s OK to be myself. Thank you for breaking the mold. Thank you for questioning the status quo. Thank you for being a glimmer of hope in a world of darkness. Thank you for showing the world a different way. Thank you for taking the road not taken. It has made all the difference.