The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken is among that relatively small cluster of narrative poems that deliver a summary of every lifetime ever lived. Robert Frost, in writing that masterpiece, might have felt the overwhelming emotions hidden just beneath the surface of the 144 words that follow the poem’s title. Yet Frost wrote the poem as a joke for an indecisive poet friend; so perhaps the flood of emotions I feel when reading the poem arise not from the poem, but from what I want to see in it. But, still, I suspect everyone who reads The Road Not Taken feels at least a tinge of displaced nostalgia or regret for a lifetime that would have been different, had decisions or circumstances been different. I know I do. Though it’s said to be pointless to ask questions that can never be answered, I wonder how my life might have been different…if…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

   ~ Robert Frost ~

Of course there’s never a single situation or circumstance in which a decision sets the course for every single future experiences in one’s life. Every decision, every random occurrence—every situation in which choices are made—triggers more and more and more alterations in the course of one’s life. But if a person tends toward sentimentality or if he is apt to ask “what if” on an ongoing basis, he wonders how “everything” would be different. He wonders how each decision one makes influences every other decision. He wonders how a choice made twenty years ago, or yesterday, spurred a flurry of decisions that, taken together, are responsible for how his life has unfolded to this very moment. And he wonders how every decision made henceforth will impact the unfolding of his life as the future is unveiled by the passage of time.

“Little” decisions can be just as transformative as “big” ones. Yet the impact of “big” decisions sometimes carries no more weight than a tiny piece of down feather in a bag full of lead balls. We cannot predict, with any degree of consistent accuracy, how a decision will change one’s life. But we can wonder, looking back, how impactful all the “big” and the “little” decisions have been. Decisions involving such life-altering events as marriage or employment or housing are not necessarily any more impactful than decisions about taking vacation trips or even going to the grocery store. Random event surrounding living one’s life day-to-day can have just as much, or more, as those monumental decisions. The trip to the grocery store could lead to purchasing the winning lottery ticket; or it could result in one’s involvement in a terrible automobile accident.

The unasked question, the hug not given (or taken), the delayed choice—all of them represent “the road not taken.” And they may make all the difference.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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