Robert Frost’s poetry has been a part of my life and one could say I’ve traveled down the roads of verse he offered many times. But I come back to this poem now at age 50 and I turn the lines over in my head in relation to my own life and I find it both comforting and troubling.
What I like about Frost is that his poems are generally built on some simple underlying truths, though, with all things human, nothing is simple. I’ve heard people read elements of this poem as though inspirational, and I don’t have a problem with that. Take inspiration where you can get it, I say. But this poem is really built on the last stanza.
The poem has a sort of dual nature to it, it’s told by someone remembering the events. Remembering their youth and having a choice to set a path in life with the best intentions and thoughts. It even has that optimism of youth in it, how we think paths will cross again and we’ll get a second chance at this.
Thinking on my choices, I gotta say, I was not as thoughtful a traveler as Frost’s. Most of the decisions I made in life were nothing more than whim and curiosity. And sometimes I was running from something, sometimes running toward something.
I remember deciding to leave Utah and the west to head back East to where I attended college. It was simply a choice to get away from the memories of a girl. We dated on and off for years, but I remember thinking she was the one. But we fell out of touch until I found out she got married. It felt like there was nothing here for me in the west where I grew up. So I took a job transfer. Certainly, I was running from something.
But that turned into running to something. After years of being lost, making decisions about jobs and friends, I found a girl who loved me and I loved. I nearly screwed that up, because I couldn’t understand why she would love me. But we got married and though we’ve got our problems, we’re still together and we still love each other. We’re doing our best.
Anyway, there were more than just two roads and more than just one fateful decision that’s brought me here. To be fair, Frost doesn’t say this single choice is the only one faced and hints it’s not. I mean there is only so much you can do in verse to paint a picture.
But I wonder, do we really understand the choices we’re making and facing? I surely did not, though I guess as a young man, I thought I did. And are we truly locked into our lives as they are, because of those decisions?
I’ve been a student, a teacher, a coach. I’ve baked bread, worked in a warehouse, labored in construction, been one of the world’s worst waiters, worked retail, became a tech for the TV ratings, wrote my way into a job in newspapers and so much more. Each job has given me something and taken something from me.
I am a son, brother, husband, father, friend. I’ve been good and bad in each of these roles at times. Each of them defines me in some part, but not in total.
All these roads I have walked as both the same traveler and different ones. Probably what Frost meant by saying he would likely come back to his cross road. Many of them have made a difference in me, though, I guess I’m still young enough that, despite the sighs over those decisions both for good and bad, I’m still young enough to see more choices before me. And with some age and experience, I might actually make some measured decisions.
And then finally, I will have chosen a road that “will make all the difference.”
Keep writing, keep running.