Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Road Not Taken -- Maybe For A Reason

I've been thinking about that Robert Frost poem recently, the one
titled "The Road Not Taken," but usually mistakenly referred to on
countless truck-stop keepsakes as "The Road Less Traveled."



The
end of the poem goes: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / I took the
one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference."



People
who need to feel better about their poor choices read those words,
probably painted on porcelain plates in their bathrooms, and take
comfort in the illusion that they're living unconventional lives. But
the catch is, Frost doesn't say the outcome of his trip was good. Just
that his decision made all the difference. And that he can't go back
and change it.



That poem sprang to mind when a woman cornered me
at an indoor play area last week. She was my mom's age, and I
mistakenly thought the twin 22-month-olds she toted around were her
grandkids. They were not.



"My husband needed children, so I had
them," she explained, as though she were talking about knitting socks.
Her youngest grandchild is 6. Her oldest son is older than her husband.
Her third husband.



She started in on the Kabalah and how if I
don't send Zev to a religious school he has a "70 percent chance" of
becoming a drug addict. She said I should have many children. She said
I should hire a nanny. She said I should eat less meat (not for health
reasons, but as a budget cut to help pay for the nanny).


"You have a lot of opinions," I said, trying to ease away from her.


"Not opinions," she said, raising her finger in the air. "Experience."


Ah, experience.


Clearly,
Grandmom has taken the road less traveled by. And clearly it has made
all the difference – but why is it that lonely road travelers like her
think I want to retrace their brambly paths and rush toward their
experiences?


I like the beaten path. It's got fantastic
amenities, good lighting, lots of company. Just think about what the
road less traveled has to offer: nothing. No bathrooms, no Starbucks,
no truck stops from which to buy Frost-inscribed knickknacks. Nothing.


My
mom is about to discover this. This week she is leaving Israel to
embark on a journey to – I think – Slovenia. The reason I'm not sure is
because she was not entirely sure where she was headed. She just hooked
up with a tour group and "where they are going, that's where we're
going," she said. It's a very romantic way to choose to travel – but so
is hitchhiking on dark, desolate highways, and I wouldn't recommend
that, either.


I know the Frost poem is a metaphor, but it's
kinda a lousy one because if you were ever truly faced with a forked
road, it'd be lunacy to choose the one that veers away from everyone
else. When I was a news reporter, I covered the funeral of a
39-year-old woman who died from exposure. She had gotten lost while
driving in the desert, and decided – so it seemed, anyway – to get out
of her car and die.


Her friends were touchy-feely new age types
who opted to "celebrate," rather than question, the woman's choices,
but I had to wonder how far off the beaten path she must have wandered
that she couldn't find her way back to a main road. Her friends swore
she didn't commit suicide, that she didn't have a reason to, but who
chooses the road that leads to sure death? Or, for that matter,
newborns younger than your grandkids?


Zev wasn't done playing, but Grandmom wasn't done talking – so I packed up our stuff and said goodbye.


"Where are you going?" she asked.


It
was such an abrupt and impudent question. We hadn't arrived together.
We didn't even exchange names; what business was it of hers where I was
going?


"Not down the path you've taken, I hope,"I said in my head. "I have to go," I said out loud, adding under my breath, "back to planet Earth.''


Maybe
I'm just doing the same thing everyone else does – using
poetry-turned-pabulum to convince myself that my choices are the right
ones. But I doubt it. If Grandmom's trail is the road less traveled,
she can weather it alone.


I got in my car, and got on the freeway.


3 comments:

  1. Yes, people misread this poem all the time. Because it's Frost there's always darkness underneath. Elsewhere in the poem he says the paths are worn about the same - no new age or starry-eyed non-comformist messages! If I recall correctly he wrote the poem after walking with a friend and talking about poetry writing. Frost writes in closed form at a time when poets were experimenting with free verse. His less travelled road is actually much trodden. 'I like the beaten path. It's got fantastic amenities, good lighting . . .' That's great!

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  2. This is a great piece. I love my road, I don't want to get off.

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  3. "The road less traveled" has many interpretations, used differently with each, varying in motives, and no stipulated absolutes from Frost. When you said "send Zev to a religious school he has a "70 percent chance" of becoming a drug addict" though, I don't agree, unless of course he's in a community with high number of users.
    drug rehab new york

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