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.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I was in fifth grade when I first read that line, that poem by Robert Frost. Miss Gross had arranged our desks so that our backs were to the windows — probably to prevent us from becoming distracted when the younger students were outside for recess. She was not the only teacher who chose that option.
The classroom was a familiar one to me. When my family moved to the small rural community, I was entering first grade, and that room had been the one in which my class met. The year I entered fourth grade, an addition to the school was built, the classrooms were reconfigured and that became the fifth grade classroom. Later, a second addition was constructed to house the music department, gym and lunchroom, which caused the classrooms to be reconfigured yet again, and I attended junior high and high school classes in that room.
But the later experiences didn’t erase fifth grade from memory. We had an aquarium, and did scratch drawings with crayons and India ink, and I first heard the poem that would shape in some ways my approach to life. I didn’t understand the walk in the woods as a metaphor for life then. I remember wondering why the guy wouldn’t go back if he enjoyed the walk. I remember Miss Gross explaining that in life we can’t go back and make different decisions. I remember puzzling over this for a long time — not just in class, but walking home, and as I lay in bed that night and other nights.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Few who know me have not heard me say “way leads to way,” my paraphrase of the closing lines of the third stanza. It’s the way I explain my life with its odd twists and turns. Way leads to way. I went to college because it was expected, not because I had any sense of what I might like to do with my life; went crazy for a while, not because chaos suited my temperament but because I was thrown into an unfamiliar world with no coping mechanisms or decision-making skills; went into therapy because I had an earnest desire to still the chaos and to live more mindfully. I tried on a variety of roles over the years, some because I was attracted to them, others because I wanted people I loved to be proud of me. Each decision took my life in a new direction; way leads to way; each decision shaped me in the way a painter creates an image on canvas, building upon the underlying layers. Bit by bit, I got better at decision-making, and bit by bit, I made peace with the poor decisions I had made, the decisions which turned me aside from my true self, even the painful ones.
That’s the piece of the life puzzle that I missed for a very long time — the piece that Frost didn’t include in his poem. In choosing, we must not only consider the path, but we must also consider ourselves. We must consider what is in our hearts and what ignites our imagination. We must consider what grounds us, what enables us to feel the earth beneath our feet, but also lifts our spirits so that we soar with joy — not happiness, joy!
I suspect I needed all of the twists and turns to find my true self. The seeds were in my childhood — I see them: the way I was hurt when my mother wouldn’t put my pictures on the refrigerator (art), my innocent piety which concerned my mother as I entered adolescence (my relationship with God), the attention I gave to everything I wrote from school papers to letters (writing). Perhaps different choices at pivotal junctures may have helped me to find my true self earlier, but perhaps not. Perhaps if I had gone to Mount Marty College or Presentation College instead of a state university, I might have learned to live my life from a spiritual center when I was younger. However, since motherhood helped me to understand God’s love for us, I may never have experienced the intimacy with God that I know now.
At this point in my life, I’ve come to think of those seeds evident in childhood as being like the pine cones of the lodge pole pine, which need fire to release the seeds for germination. I needed the fire of mistakes and failure to burn away all that is not true in me, all that does not reflect the person God created me to be. I needed heartbreak and loss, disappointments and betrayal, loneliness and poverty. The journey has not been an easy one; I’m not sure it’s one I would have chosen or wished on anyone else, but like Frost’s narrator, I find myself thinking, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
Yes, way leads to way, and the way of my life has led me here, now, to this place and to this time. As my fingers strike this keyboard, only one thought runs through my mind: “It is good.”