I was very young the first time I heard the poem The Road Not Taken. At the time “a yellow wood” had little meaning, except in the context of fall. Mrs. Carpenter read the poem full of thoughtful meaning to a class of wriggly 6th graders who were more concerned about lunch or recess or whatever else, but certainly not Robert Frost. At the beginning of this reading I little knew how he was about to plant a seed that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
There were so many ways this poem narrated my future, and even now my present and past. At the time, I was in a new school, just wanted to fit in after escaping a parochial school. I could spell and had no idea at the time how much I loved words. Soon, I was captured.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
I had just moved to a new town and the idea of never seeing all those people again gave me pause. (As it turns out, I didn’t see but 2 of them again.) By the time Mrs. Carpenter read the last few lines, I had lived whole lives. I was hooked. If the road not taken had been a destination, I would have moved there.
“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.”
In that moment, after the reverberating last three lines soaked into my little brain, I made a life choice. In 6th grade, I couldn’t imagine what the future would hold, but one thing I held onto anyway. I wanted to travel on the road not taken. A lot of people I knew grew up in the same town and have known the same people for decades. Sometimes their life looked fuller than mine, their relationships seem deeper, more stable. They knew each other through and through. They’re pillars of their communities. I opted to be known by a chosen few and moved a lot.
As a creative, the road not taken had led me to some interesting places, some of them very painful. Not one of them that I would trade. When you embark on such a journey, there is no one to show the way. There’s a lot of hit and miss.
Is there a right and wrong road? Every crossroad is a decision, isn’t it? The limits of our knowledge will be stretched. Every decision leads to another decision. Every road that I couldn’t quite see to the end was somewhere to travel. There were so many. My life has been a lot of things, but dull is not a word that will ever describe it.
One day, I took a skinny little country road and turned onto a smaller, skinnier country road. In a full circle moment, I stood in a yellow wood. It was as if the sun itself had been caught in the branches of the trees. The leaves blazed with supernatural light. I felt happy. My life was not perfect, but it was the life I chose for myself. Even when it was rough, I comforted myself with that thought.
What about you? Are you taking safe routes and tried and true paths? Are you living the life you wanted or are you letting others dictate what it should be? Certainly, I’m not advocating packing a bag and going out to find yourself. But you could keep your eyes peeled and start looking for a less traveled way. Start small: A store you haven’t been in, a vacation you want to plan, a country you want to see, a side hustle you want to try.
Think about it. It will make all the difference.