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Two Roads Diverged

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” — so wrote Robert Frost. Life is a path we trod, and along that path are many choices, leading us in one direction or another with choices that shape our very lives. In the poem by Frost, either path would have perhaps worked as well as the other. Both were fair, both led through woods cast yellow by autumn leaves. The paths and the choices did not matter, at least in the sense that each provided its own adventure and destiny. Both in “that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.” Frost chose the “one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Each path beckoned in its own way, but Frost wanted something different from life; he wanted to venture out in life in a direction true and independent of the crowd. After all, if we live like everybody else, we become like everybody else.

This whole notion of life as a journey is an easy one for us to grasp. As we travel through the years of our life, a road lays ahead of us just as a road lays behind us. We understand that. Just as our journey has had a beginning, our journey will also have an ending. Yet, we would like to think that we have lived for something. We like to think that our life has had a purpose and that we have accomplished something. We do not want to come to the end of the journey only to find a dead end. We may have a petty life, but we do not want a petty end to our life.

Until we have come to the end of the journey called life, we like to think that our life is going in the right direction, and if not, at least in a direction we can change. We want to be able to turn around if we have missed our turn. If we are lost, we want to be able to find our way back. At times, though, we may have doubts whether we made a good choice or not, but as Frost indicates, way inevitably leads unto way. Two paths may diverge in a woods, but each will diverge again and yet again, diverge many times before we come to the end of our journey. If way leads unto to way, choice must lead unto to choice as well. Where we begin is not where we end. Even in a life that goes nowhere, there is a road to be traveled. And travel that road we must.

We may be able to see the beginning of the road, but we cannot see the end of the road until we are at the end of the road. As strange as it may seem, even death can be depicted as a road not yet taken. At the close of his life, Joshua punctuated the moment by speaking to others:

This day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass.
Joshua 23.14

At a time when people physically walked from one place to another, the metaphor of a road seemed especially fitting. After all, if I wake up early in the morning so that I can walk to where I am going — journey, destination, and life all become intermingled somehow. Walking to the next town requires that I spend a part of my life doing so. As Joshua had lived and walked, so now at the end of his life, there would be another walk. Every road has an end.

To return to Frost for a moment, and the idea of two roads diverged in a woods, we find that in the ultimate scheme of things, there are indeed two roads, and each diverges from the other, and each leads in direction unseen, and each has been traveled, and as in Frost, there is even one road less traveled by. Consider for a moment, the wording of Frost in the opening stanza of the poem:

Long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Unable to see where the road might ultimately lead, Frost was forced to make his decision on another basis. He chose the road fewer people had followed; the road less traveled by. So it is with the ultimate choice between good and evil. Each lays out its own path that winds through unseen years and unlived experiences.

It is this unseen and unlived element that Proverbs seems to address:

The path of the just is as the shining light,
that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
The way of the wicked is as darkness:
they know not at what they stumble.

Proverbs 4.18,19

When we first begin our journey whether we choose the path of the just, or the way of the wicked, both are in some ways equally mysterious and unknown, at least, unknown as far we are concerned. Our life and its journey are still in front of us. We are young and everything is fresh and new. As our journey unfolds, and as the years go by, the road we have chosen to travel begins to unfold itself. The path of the just becomes clearer the longer a man travels that path. Early morning light may be dim, but as the sun makes his way across the sky, the day becomes daylight. The man who has chosen right knows he has chosen right even before his journey is over. The way of the wicked may begin in dim sunlight just as the way of the just, but the further a man may travel this path, the darker the path becomes, until he stumbles in the dark, never knowing what he has tripped over, or why he has fallen.

Two older women sat in a courtroom, one on a witness stand, the other in the audience. The woman on the witness stand had lived her life in frivolous lawsuits, in underhanded attempts to defraud others of their money and joy. Unmistakably etched across her face was a frozen scowl. She had lived a life of constant anger, hate, and bitterness. She lost her case at court that day, and as the judge read the decision from the bench, the scowl grew deeper. She once had celebrated the death of a neighbor, mocking the widow as she grieved the death of her husband. She who had indulged her life with slur and mockery and self-importance now found herself ignored. She boasted to the court that she was eighty-two, but her life had ended in darkness many years before. She came to the end of her life losing.

The other woman in the audience had not been subpoenaed. She was not there to testify in any trial. She had come to the court only because a friend had asked her to do so. She was an older widow, but on her face was the look of unmistakable kindness. She lived her life doing for others. She had been chosen as one of the best volunteers in her city. For her, the work of doing for others was fun. That’s how she described any work she did. She lifted others and their spirits wherever she went. I rather think that she had done that all of her life. She was one of two women in a court that day. Each had followed a different path in life. The one now stumbled in darkness; the other now lived in brightness: two roads diverged in a courtroom: the scowl, and the smile and each became the reflection of a path chosen years and years before.

I shall be telling this with a sigh —
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood . . .