Any reader of poetry probably knows that Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is about life choices. The poet mentions two roads diverging in a yellow wood; however, from my perspective, Frost was lucky to have discerned a mere two roads in the undergrowth, considering how often two ways to go understates the dilemma of actual life choices.
But before perambulating into my past to make a point about roads, the present compels me to say that no ruling or law should prevent some people from traveling a road they would choose if they could.
As for Frost, who am I to say that two roads did not diverge; I wasn’t there, but as metaphors for my life, two roads is too few. Many more options often presented themselves, and at times the road I actually traveled didn’t lie peacefully in the undergrowth but came up and hit me before I had time to figure out which path was covered by “leaves no step had trodden black.”
And it would be nice to say I always took the high road, but sometimes I trod the path of least resistance, and maybe like Frost’s road not taken that made all the difference, though maybe not.
Occasionally, someone would point me in a direction and say go that-a-way and I would go. That’s how I became the adviser for the Locke High school newspaper at the inner city school where I taught in the 70s. My department chair said do it and I did and that made all the difference because as a result my work became my play and I found a passion for picas, pixels, sports, a band director and a coach or two.
In college, before I even imagined teaching high school let alone sports writing, I thought I would be a writer like Joyce Carol Oates or Joan Didion. I would graduate from Occidental College, if I wasn’t suspended first for refusing to attend compulsory chapel. I thought I would go to Breadloaf School of English in Middlebury, Vermont. But in my sophomore year, the actual road I was traveling in the form of a freeway offramp in Pasadena came up to meet me as I was thrown from the car on a rainy evening returning to campus and broke in several places, requiring months of recuperation at home with a boyfriend carrying school work to my house and back again. The car accident itself, however, didn’t doom Breadloaf.
For weakened in spirit by my injury and feeling guilty for dating a fraternity brother of my boyfriend, I made it up to him for all his fetching and lack of kvetching about my treachery and was “with child” my junior year.
And so I married, a rut frequently fallen into in the early sixties. While I was tempted to make it on my own as a single mom, as a junior in college, told I could not attend classes pregnant and unmarried, I yielded to pressure.
I just have to interject that I wish marriage was a rut everyone could fall into.
Now, three sons later, and much later in life ambling hand in hand with Corky, also the mother of three sons, I marvel at our hidden worlds. Neither wholly rational nor irrational, with not every thought or impulse great or noble or coming from a calm center, we are teachers to each other. And I look at the roads that lie ahead, wherever they go and see they are incredibly precious.
Moreover, as the roads ahead become shorter than roads behind that led to now, I aim to avoid the dead-end of coulda/woulda/shoulda and cultivate instead an urgent delight because aging, a road we all travel, has taught me to calculate the value of experience not by how long it lasts, but how deep its impact.
So it was when our Monday Small Group Ministry met for the last time, we extinguished the chalice with these words from Buddhist and UU minister James Ishmael Ford: “We must hold everything lightly, for everything passes. But . . . such a holding is enough—when we give it our whole hearts, our full attention.” Traveling each road with “Whole heart and full attention” transforms the ordinary, reduces regret and turns every road into one that makes all the difference. It was not Robert Frost but James Ishmael Ford who said, “Our appreciation of even the smallest things in our lives is the very majesty and magic of our human existence.” Let it be so.