In the coming weeks, many of my graduating seniors will be heading off to college, and as I’ve chatted with a few of them, it’s clear that the reality of what they’re doing–leaving rural Maine and heading out in the real, nasty world–is settling on their shoulders as easily as a Ford truck. Questions of, “Are you ready?” are met with nervous fits of giggles and a hesitant, “Yeah? No?”
Each year I take my students through Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” and explain how the most notable lines are frequently misread:
I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
And even while it was the title of a popular self-help book for many years, “taking the road less traveled by” does not necessarily mean to “blaze your own trail” and that anything less is “unacceptable.” I’ve had students confide that they feel they have to be different from everyone else, and that following someone else’s path is somehow wrong, even if they really do want to walk in someone else’s very noble footsteps.
So I point out that the stanza begins with the ambivalent line,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
which, in most poetry, means a sigh of longing, of regret, of “what if?” Maybe the speaker wishes he hadn’t taken the “one less traveled by” when he saw two roads diverging; he may have made a mistake. Maybe the one less traveled by is NOT the correct road. But then again, maybe it is?!
And this is where many people freeze in life: trying to decide which road to take. Some may decide to turn back and not try either, while others can stand there for too long never making a choice until life or someone else forces them, which almost always leads to resentment.
I’ve heard students–and many adults–debate their decisions which seem innocuous and correct now, but what if they aren’t in the future? What if that’s the wrong road?
To that I say, SO WHAT?! GO ANYWAY!
Ok, let me calm that down a bit. As long as the path one takes doesn’t lead directly to prison, or hurting someone else, or hating one’s self, but is a carefully plotted, deliberately chosen path that should be ok, then GO! Take it! Don’t just stand there or worse, go back and try nothing!
And yes, there may be HUGE PROBLEMS down that path, but OK! LEARN FROM THEM! Embrace trials! Embrace problems! GROW!
Yes, I’ve made HUGE mistakes, some I still reel from. But I’ve also made huge compensations for those, and found myself on strange paths–well-trodden and also some less traveled by–and over my fifty years have discovered that all paths can become good. My biggest mistakes have eventually become my biggest lessons and biggest blessings.
(I’ll admit that it took me nearly forty-nine years to finally come to that revelation, but whatever. And to my children, no, I’m not talking about any of you. And I’m not talking about your father, either.)
To everyone who hits a crossroads, who sees more than one option, who feels paralyzed to take those steps on the road where you can’t see its end, I say: GO! Just TRY IT! I’ll give you 99 to 1 odds that it’ll turn out good. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, and you’ll look back and say, “That turned out to be a decent road. It was rough at times, and the zombie attack was definitely unexpected, but I made it. And just look what I achieved along the way!”
(And by the way, The Walls in the Middle of Idumea is nearly here! My laptop took an unexpected siesta for many days, traveling down its own dark path until I could bring it home again which delayed my progress, but the book is almost ready for publishing.)