The Road not Taken

I think I was in high school when I first encountered Robert Frost’s famous poem about two roads. It didn’t have a very big impact on me at the time, but somehow, I remembered the beginning and the ending: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” and “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I liked the notion of choosing a path in life that is unique and less crowded. I have been attracted to roads less traveled. It isn’t like the majority of my high school or college friends chose to be ministers. Truthfully, the majority of them aren’t very active in the church these days. I’m not much for reunions, so I don’t know the stories of many of the people whose paths crossed with mine earlier in my life. The Internet gives me a bit more contact with people from other phases of my life than might be the case otherwise, but for the most part I have focused on going forward with my life and not spending too much time looking back.

These days, however, from the perspective of six decades and a bit more under my belt, I am struck by the regret in the poem. Frost isn’t sad for the choice he made, but he remembers the feeling of wanting to keep both options - to travel down both roads. “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

I occasionally speculate about the roads I never traveled.

I got a great start on a career as a pilot, and if not a career then a hobby. I earned my pilot’s license as soon as I was old enough. I had strong support from my parents for my flying and opportunities that few other have. My father not only was a skilled and patient instructor, he also was an airframe and powerplant mechanic and had the means to help me have access to a variety of different airplanes. When I went off to college, however, I was so focused on my studies in other areas that I completely quit flying for a decade and when I returned, I enjoyed it as an avocation, but never made it a high enough financial priority to really call myself fully proficient. When we made the decision to sell our partnership in the plane and I quit flying as a pilot in command, I was at home with the decision. I don’t regret it. But sometimes, when I have time I imagine “what if . . .”

I graduated from seminary fully intending to serve 3 or 4 years as a parish minister and then move on to a speciality: health care ministry. I so fell in love with being a pastor that those 3 or 4 years have stretched to 30 or 40 and I have no desire to leave the life of a pastor. Still, it comes to my mind on occasion to think of the other options. Like Frost, I used to think I might go back and try another path, but because decisions lead to other decisions and time passes, I’ve never gone back.

I like the perspective of the poem: “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence:”

Somehow, I have now reached that point ages and ages hence. The years have turned to decades and my life is playing out as a result of the decisions I have made. Not every decision has been completely logical. I’ve lived my life far from major bodies of water and in places that get small amounts of rainfall. Yet I’ve collected a garage full of boats and continue to build more than I am able to paddle. Last year I renewed licenses on two boats that never made it into the water. I always imagine that I will have more time than I find. A logical person would shed some of the boats and many of the tools and admit that no one person can do everything. One life is too short to pursue all of the interests I have with equal focus.

There have, however, been times in my life when I have traveled on the freeways and roads “more traveled.” I’ve flowed with the mainstream in a lot of ways. Reading Robert Frost’s famous poem was expected of every student in my high school. I’m thinking that it is part of the standard curriculum in a lot of schools. It is familiar and famous. In a kind of unique twist of fate, the poem about the road less traveled has become incredibly mainstream. Reading it is hardly taking an unusual path. Still, it came to me this morning ini a fresh way. I doubt that many of my peers awoke with that particular poem on their mind this morning, and not many chose to begin their day writing an essay inspired by it. Many have relegated it to their past - to those places where decisions were made and life went on and to which they never returned.

I, however, find that the poem is poignantly powerful - more so than when I read it as a somewhat bored high school student. It is rich and meaningful from my current perspective:

The Road Not Taken

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 kept 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.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!