There is a poem that, like it has for countless others, has always resonated in my mind. It is by the incomparable Robert Frost (Yes, I know he’s an American writer. No, in this case, I don’t mind.), and it speaks to the choices and decisions we make in our lives. It reads as follows:
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.
Well, I am at that place in the woods. In less than two weeks I need to make a choice, and I am torn about what to do. Both options lie before me, each having an equal amounts of pros and cons. One path makes me feel more unsure about my future, but the other path locks me into a road I’m not sure I’m willing to be on for much longer.
I’ve put a lot of work and effort into both these ventures, and until now both paths have run, albeit tiringly, smoothly alongside each other. But now, there is a boulder separating one from the other forever, as far as I can see. My first thought was that if I could only figure out which was the one less traveled, I would know what I was to do. But, what defines less traveled?
With an actual path, it would be the road that is overrun with grass, so long it has been since a human foot has trod on it. It would be the one with a smaller breadth, the one more often left off the maps. It is the one that only a few locals remember, and that even fewer know how to traverse.
But life is not as clear as a path. Sure, one way is more…shall we say, commercial? But does that make it more traveled? Often on this road so far, I’ve felt very, very alone. And isn’t that the earmark of a road less traveled, that you have few fellow travelers, if indeed any at all? And the other road, it’s “off the beaten path” to be sure. But it is also the safe choice, the road that has been with me the longest. It is the safety net. It is a road I’ve traveled for a long time, a road that I can be pretty sure of where I’ll end up.
So, what if I determine the path less traveled? Does this really help me decide my future? Look at that last stanza. The speaker says that maybe, years and years down the road, he might recount this choice in the woods “with a sigh.” Is this good? Bad? All the speaker really tells us is that by taking the road less traveled, it made all the difference.
Unfortunately for me, this doesn’t shed any illumination on my dilemma. Any choice, any decision, any stance makes “all the difference” in a life. Is difference a good thing, or a bad thing? Can we say with any certainty that our lives will be truly better if we go one way, than if we go another? Can we ever look back and say “this was the right path”? I think that we want to be able to trust our decisions. We want to say that hindsight is 20/20 and we know for sure that we made a good choice, or that we can see now how we made a bad choice. But, did we really?
We can’t predict the future, and we can’t change the past. We can’t run parallel lives and find out how a different choice truly would have affected our life. So, we create this environment that says if a decision in the past, then we can make definitive calls on how it impacted our lives. However, just as we cannot accurately predict the future, I don’t think that we can absolutely read the past.
Maybe this is the point that Frost wanted to make. Maybe he wanted us to see that we cannot travel two paths as the same person, and we cannot know where the path we did not choose would lead us. All we can do is look, evaluate, and take those first brave steps down the road of our choosing.
Which doesn’t help me decide which path to choose, in the least.