I stand at a crossroads, two ways before me. One paved and well lit, the other hard pan, worn through newly greening grass. Which way do I go?
A Robert Frost poem beckons dimly from an English class long past. Something about two paths and a choice to be made. One worn and one less so? The brave choose the one less traveled, it seems to say. They venture into uncharted territory and pave their own way.
Clearly, the folks in charge of these paths want me to choose the paved path. It is straight and firm so I won’t lose my footing. It is lit so I can walk it any time of the day or night and not lose my way. But is it the well worn path? Robert Frost seems to ask me. I can’t tell because its surface doesn’t show the wear and tear of footsteps along it. At least not today.
Clearly, someone wants me to go this way. But I’m glad for the other path; it actually leads in the direction I want to go. Those willing to take the chance of stepping off the paved path have given me permission to go this way. I’m grateful to them because when I was this age – college age as I am on a college campus today – I didn’t feel that freedom. I was all about seeking the right way, the paved way, the lit path.
Now, I am here with my own daughter, and she is readying to choose her own path. She doesn’t even hesitate at this intersection. Well, of course, take the dirt path; it’s more direct. Yet, she looks around. Is anyone actually walking across the grass? Am I singling myself out here? Will someone catch me and caution me about treading on the grass? What are the rules here?
Ah, the rules. We don’t like them, but it’s so important we know them. Not so we can break them, as some creative writing teachers will tell you, but because they are there for a reason. And reasons we need to know, so we can decide for ourselves whether the reasoning is sound and deserves our attention and respect. This is the way of youth. This, quite frankly, is the way of today.
Shortcuts are convenient and treading new paths is bold. But often the path laid before us is meant to take us past things we need to see (and perhaps deny or adopt) before we go on our way. The hard thing is, we don’t know which is which when we stand before both. As Sir Robert did not when he stood before his decision. But if he was to move on, he had to choose. To say no to one when he stepped onto the other.
And that, ironically, is the apparent lesson of this poem, as I read it again after all these years. It is not ‘the road less taken’; it is The Road Not Taken. It does not glorify the spirit of individualism that strikes out on its own. It laments the path we always intended to come back to but never do. Even if life does bring us back to the same crossroads, the choice is not the same because we are not the same. We’ve been changed by the choosing.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,” Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, the eve of what would be His crucifixion. Jesus had come to decision point. “Yet not my will but yours be done,” Jesus concluded. Surely, no one with the power to choose otherwise would choose the way of the cross, yet He did.
Could it be that He took the road not meant to be taken in order to pave and bring light to our choice?
The Road Not Taken
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.
If I come to a complete stop, I’m stuck.
Not that I’m prone to hyperactivity. I’m actually quite a measured person. I consider carefully what I do. I’m not a risk-taker or an impulsive doer. Just a mover. Something about being in motion gives me a sense of myself in space, in place, in life.
So, I wonder about people who just stand there on purpose. Who, through clenched fists and tight lips, say “I’m waiting for ‘a calling’ or ‘for inspiration’ or ‘for a sign.'” As soon as they get the word, they’ll be off to the races. Until then, they are sweating bullets sitting at that crossroads.
I don’t work that hard. There’s a sign at the intersection in the front of my house that says stop. In my car, I do. But on foot, I don’t. I look right, left and straight ahead and then step off into the direction for the day’s venture.
Which way is the “right” way, I really don’t know. But what I have found is that the sign at the entrance is rarely God’s sign. It’s an earthly sign, erected by humans. It’s the law and I’m meant to obey it. But once I choose the way, once I turn in a direction, then God’s signs are all along it to tell me I’m on His path.
Occasionally I see another stop or a yield or a “rough road ahead” sign on this path. These are Him, too. Telling me I’ve made a wrong turn!
Perhaps if I listened more carefully at the entrance of my day I would hear Him calling me into something in particular. A “Go this way. I’ve made you a novelist!” Or “Go that way. I’ve made you a coach!” Or “Turn around. I’ve made you a personal trainer!”
Nope. None of that. The call for me is not a hearing, but a moving and then a noticing. What I am meant to be will come clearer along the way. Perhaps He’ll slap some armor on me and make me a warrior. Or stick feathers in me and make me a bird. Or pour syrup and sprinkles from above and make me an ice cream sundae.
What we’re meant to be will be revealed. For now I’m working on trusting. God’s not calling me to perform divine acts of great consequence. That’s His business. Just to the small stuff. “Go in the strength you have,” He says, “and I’ll be along.”
This requires a certain amount of letting go, a certain amount of trust and a heaping helping of humor. Trusting myself to make all the decisions, now that’s laughable. Trusting in God is much safer, much healthier and the way things are going to work out anyway. Along that path, I may even learn to trust myself! I’m not looking for anything in particular. I’m just coming.
So much simpler than trying to figure it all out ahead of time.