Monday, June 19, 2006

The Forkin' tha Road

If two roads diverge in a yellow wood and I, I take the one less traveled by, does that really make all the difference?

Oh Robert Frost, why hast thou created this all-too-familiar image of the "fork in the road" in my mind? I feel like I'm trapped inside the words of this classic American poem, always wondering if I'm traveling down that road not taken. As I think about Frost's words, I realize that at different times in my life, this poem has come to mean different things. It's quite simple really...

I would normally analyze this poem with fervor, carefully noting each poetic device or convention with precision. But I'd like to take a look, here, at the ways in which this poem has been interpreted (on a more general level) and applied to issues that have been swimming around in my heart and my head.

There's a great quote that sums up the first interpretation quite well. I'm not sure who said it but I know that we painted it on the wall of one of the stairwells at my high school in 11th grade. It was the stairwell that smelled like pot. And the quote, in all its inspiration, read something like this: "Stand up for what's right even if you're standing alone." Pretty simple to grasp, but not exactly the easiest concept to put into action. I'm sure you've heard it before (or at least some variation on a theme). There's also a pretty good chance you know who said it, as I can only imagine it was probably quoted by some majorly famous individual like Bono or Jesus. Right now I can't recall, so forgive me. You can mock my intelligence later.

Frost's poem both calls us all to know what we believe and, with that knowledge, calls us to consciously do what is just, righteous, and fair. I ask myself today, just as I asked myself that day in the stairwell surrounded by a purple haze, if I have the courage to stand alone. Do I? As a believer, it seems like this concept of "doing what's right" is even more of a burden. Wow, did I just call doing what's right a burden? Ha, that's ironic. I guess I just mean that there's an added pressure that comes along with being a Christian that isn't necessarily there for people who have nothing to hold them accountable to some sort of moral standard. I'd like to think that when faced with a decision, no matter how big, I try and first assess the situation (aka "take note of the fork") and then consider the consequences of each choice (aka "analyze the two roads"). When I've taken an adequate pause, I take that step toward the cleaner of the two paths. Frost's poem has been a comfort to me in times when I've faced issues of integrity and honesty. I feel like the more I'm challenged by other people's lifestyle choices or beliefs, the more I reaffirm my own.

Which path do you normally take? Do you jump on the bandwagon and mosey on down the dusty road of the masses? Or, like me, do you set out on foot down a path that you know is a bit lonelier along the way but more rewarding in the end? Tough stuff. If I close my eyes right now and think about that point of decisiveness, I see a rather dilapidated tree with no leaves and far-reaching branches standing firmly at the apex of a point of intersection. To the right of the tree's base is one path and to the left is another. I stand there, turning my head back and forth, trying my very hardest to discern which of these paths is the safest choice. When I realize that the decision won't come to me on my own merit, I bow my head and ask Jesus to help me decide. All of a sudden the path to the left becomes illuminated, as if it's beckoning me to its end. Sure I'm willing to stand alone if it means standing up for "what's right," but, if that's true, that can only mean one thing: Jesus must either be on my back or have no legs cause I can promise you, He's there, too. I ain't just standin' alone!

Interpretation numero deux is a little different than answering the question of which path is right and which path is wrong. Here, the fork represents two nearly equal choices but just calls for a decision for the sake of only being able to go one way. To put it more simply, "Billy, you can either have a hotdog OR a hamburger, but not both. Now pick one." A hotdog isn't necessarily more "right" than a hamburger, just different. And there, my friends, is the other "Road Not Taken." If Billy chooses the hotdog, will it be as satisfying as if he would have chosen the hamburger? Is he so hungry that it really doesn't matter which one he chooses but just that he makes a choice? Will Billy choose the hotdog and always wonder what if he would have eaten that juicy burger? (In the above illustration, "hotdog" and "hamburger" are used as placeholders for major life decisions and "Billy" represents you and me). Sometimes I find that it's just as hard to pick between doing what's right and doing what's wrong as it is between doing what you think, at the time, will make you the happiest. Here, the road not taken isn't more deserted because less people are afraid to stand up for something. No, here, the road is less taken because we all have natural tendencies to form patterns in our decision making. It's just less traveled because we make it that way. For example, If I'm given the choice between going to see a movie and going outto da club, 99% of the time you can find me in a theater. That's just me. So how much of it becomes an acutal choice and how much of it is ingrained in who we are?

I've been forced to take a look at Frost's words yet again, as I'm coming upon some major life decisions. They're never easy, that's for sure. So, I'll stand there at the base of that ole leafless tree and ask, as if it were the first time, "Which road should I take?" I can only hope that if I choose to eat the hamburger, I'll be full and happy and satisfied. That's all I can really ask for.


Anonymous said...

I have always looked at the poem differently. I believe that poem deals with the choices we have already made. I think Frost is looking back realizing that, yes, the decisions we make are hard. However, once we make a choice, we must accept it because that choice changes who we are and sculpts us into something new. Frost is not upset at this change. He is saying we should be content in the belief that we made right choice.

Looking at this, it does not sound the way I wanted it to. I guess I mean we should be content with ourselves, because who we are is shaped by the decisions that we make. Frost is content with who he is, because he has confidence in his past decisions (represented by the fork in the road).

emoss said...

Totally, anonymous. I agree with you here. We are who we are today because of the choices we've made and we do have to be conent with those decisions.

I know Robert was looking back here, but I guess because I'm trying to look forward I'm seeing what I want in his words. Or, perhaps what I need to see in them.

Thanks for the post.

Botonium said...

This post means a lot to me. I'm excited for you and can't wait to see what happens. I think I tend to look at things more like you described in your post than Anonymous does. Even though I think we must face the decisions we've made in the past and those decisions bring us to our current position on the road, I also think we must strive for more. My NOT being content with certain decisions I've made has brought me to contemplation and my facing those decisions has taught me a lot about myself. When I look back and cringe at certain things in the past, that's when I find God "standing" with me and offering forgiveness/strength/peace/wisdom/etc. All I have to do is ask/receive/believe and I love that! Then I see that when I was too weak at certain times to know which road to take, to my surprise (sadly... why should i be surprised?) Jesus was carrying me.

I'm excited to read this blog. I feel like we're at a similar fork in the road. This was encouraging...