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Mike Bellah

This is a poem about a common struggle we all face in life: the inability to do two mutually exclusive things.

 

 

 

 

"I shall be telling this with a sigh," says Frost, "somewhere ages and ages hence."

 

 

 

 

Temporary choices have a way of becoming permanent ones, and today's procrastinations are tomorrow's regrets.

The Road Not Taken

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," writes Robert Frost, "and I--I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Frost's poem has been a favorite of mine, but maybe not for the reason you think.

Most people seem to interpret this poem as a tribute to the road less traveled, as an endorsement of the decision to plow new ground, to explore new territory, to try or to create something new. And, I admit, this is both an inspirational theme and a viable interpretation of the poem.

Yet it seems to me that Frost emphasizes the road not taken, as opposed to the one less taken. In fact, the poem is titled "The Road Not Taken." This is a poem about a common struggle we all face in life: the inability to do two mutually exclusive things. Frost says he wants to travel both roads, but he "cannot and be one traveler."

So after a wistful look down the road he won't take, he sets out on the other. Of course he keeps the first for another day. "Yet," he says, "knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted that I'd ever be back."

What a poignant line! Haven't you felt this? I have. My list of roads not taken is long.

At various stages in my childhood, I wanted someday to own a ranch and raise horses, to write mystery stories like the Hardy Boys series, to play professional sports (baseball or football depending on the season), and to become a long-distance trucker (something I considered--still do--the present-day equivalent of the Old West cattle drover).

Later on, I attended several different colleges before settling at the one where I received my bachelor's degree. Similarly, I changed majors just as frequently: from pre-med to business to Christian education to theology (and in graduate school, English literature and communication).

With the exception of some brief stopovers in Wyoming, Arizona, and California, I've spent the majority of my adult life in Texas where I grew up. And I'm proud to be a Texan, but I still dream of living in Colorado, or Montana, or Alaska, or Scotland, or about a dozen other places.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh," says Frost, "somewhere ages and ages hence." I, too, sigh at times, like when I watch an emergency room doctor at work, or when I read a really good mystery novel, or when I return home after visiting the mountains, or when I see a National Geographic special on Alaska, or when I pass an 18-wheeler on a long stretch of Interstate. I, too, wish I could have taken all those roads and been one traveler.

Frost's poem reminds us that one rarely returns to roads not taken. That's why, especially at midlife, it's so dangerous to keep putting things off that we consider truly important. Temporary choices have a way of becoming permanent ones, and today's procrastinations are tomorrow's regrets.

And yet, like it or not, we can't take all the roads we want to in life. Frost's words also remind us that we really are one traveler, and trying to choose everything in life will leave us just as empty as choosing the wrong thing. We can't keep changing roads and expect to reach the end of any of them. Ultimately, over-commitment arrives at the same destination as procrastination: at the road not taken.

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