Do the proverbial “Roads not Taken” really make all the difference? They could for your stories.
In her “PLEASE Stop Misinterpreting “The Road Not Taken,” Susan Baroncini-Moe makes a compelling argument that Robert Frost’s poem is about looking back at the roads not taken, and not about choosing the path less traveled. She argues:
This poem is so much more complex than just “Hey, I took a road that most people don’t take, and that has made my life better and that’s why I got all the amazing results I got in my life.” The message is far more like, “I took a road. It could’ve been another road. But this is the one I took. One day, I’ll say that it was this choice, in this moment, to take this particular road that made my life better, but in fact, both roads weren’t very different from one another, so my life might’ve been different if I’d taken the other road, but probably would’ve yielded other cool stuff.”
This interpretation makes me love The Road Not Taken even more than I liked it in my youth, back when there was an irresistible appeal in taking the adventurous route. You know all the clichés. Marching to the beat of a different drummer.
Frost beckons to the memoirist inside of us, to tell not only the choices we made, but to explain your rationale. He invites us to succumb to the twinges of regret about our roads not taken, at least long enough to write them down for our descendants.
Using the Road Not Taken Metaphor in Your Stories
Where do you sit on life’s see-saw of taking the Road Less Traveled versus Staying in Your Lane? How have you looked at those choices through the varying phases of your life?
Pretend for a moment, you find yourself on one of life’s precipices. Before you lie several routes down the mountain. The clearly demarcated, well-traveled path. The steeper route. The longer, more meandering route. You could also don skis (this is your imagination, even if it’s my methaphor) and take the expert route down. You could forge your own path through the back-country.
Which path would you choose?
Stories of the Roads Not Taken
Your answer (or your ancestor or family member’s answer, if you’re writing about them) may well have as much to do with your) circumstances as your personality.
For instance, I’m always up for an adventure, especially if it involves nature (and it’s not too terribly hot or cold outside). However, now that my chronological age has hit the half-century mark, I’m no longer physically up for a day-hike to Yosmite’s Half Dome. I’m happy to explore, but if I went into the back country, I’d want a guide and maybe a horse to ride.
As you think back on those times when the roads in your life diverged, consider the following:
- Were you making the decision independently, or were you finding the best choice for the entire family?
- Was there an emotional weight you were carrying that influenced your decision?
- Speaking of family, did your need to provide and care for them limit your options?
- Where were you in your life’s journey? How old were you? If you had kids, how old were they? How settled were you in your career or community?
- What did you expect to find at the bottom of the road you choose?
- What obstacles were you avoiding on the roads not taken? Was there financial or physical risks involved?
- Was this a hard-fraught decision or one that you instinctively knew was right?
- How was the decision a good fit for your personality (or not)?’
- Did your faith play a role in your decision making?
The Right Choice for You, Not the Best Road
Of course, decisions are not all good or bad. Many are just so-so. I firmly believe that sometimes we do the best we can at the time. Perhaps a meandering route is better because it had the most appealing vistas. Perhaps it wasn’t about adventure, but loving the road.
What “roads not taken” really made ALL the difference in your life? Write your stories!