The Road Not Taken

Today is Robert Frost’s birthday. As such, this morning I find myself meditating on his great poem “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.

Many of us, myself included, focus on the last 4 lines, reflecting perhaps on unconventional paths we followed at various points in our lives. But consider the title — the road NOT taken. For me, this poem is also a reminder and a warning that sometimes we dwell too much on a path we didn’t take. For some of us, those ponderings of what if include regrets and shouldas. Frost poem too suggests that, as we ponder the road not taken, we shall miss the beauty of the path we are on.

We all have a history of key decisions we have made in life. We may find ourselves wondering what if I had taking the other path. In my own case, what if I went ahead after high school and attended the seminary where I was already accepted? What if I had stayed in the Army? What if I had taken that job in Rochester? This to me is wasted energy yet we all do it.

Then too there are seemingly minor decisions that ended up having huge impact. When I was a sophomore in high school, I chose not to pursue basketball anymore. One year later, I auditioned for a play and that path led eventually to me meeting my wife of 51 years. If I ponder about the road not taken regarding basketball, I don’t feel regret. I feel gratitude.

For some, reflections on key decisions relate to their beliefs about God’s will. “When I took the left path instead of the right one, was I choosing in accord with God’s will for me?” God’s will is a slippery concept for we are also told we have free will. It makes me think of parenting. We may want our child to make a certain decision, even try to push them in that direction yet knowing all the while that it is our child’s decision.

Then too there is the issue of how specific is God’s will for us. Personally I do not believe that God somehow intended for me to be a clinical psychologist in El Paso TX. I think perhaps that God’s will involved certain gifts I was given and the expectation that I would live out those gifts to benefit others. Sadly, I have sat with persons who lived in fear that somehow God was angry with them because they have not followed God’s will.

Perhaps all that God’s will involves for each of us is “Make your decisions out of love for yourself and for others.”

Sometimes too we dwell on the serious mistakes, sins if you will, that we have made. We run a Dr. Phil on ourselves: “Good Lord, what was I thinking when I did that?’ That type of regret can include a lack of forgiveness of ourselves. I have made some serious mistakes in my life. Do I dwell on them, saying “How would my life be if I hadn’t done such a stupid thing?” Or do I try to do what I believe we are called to do — forgive myself and change.

So, no, I did not choose the path of becoming a Holy Cross priest. I did not choose the path of changing my major from psychology. I did not choose the path of staying in the Army. Just as Frost says, that has made all the difference. So I try not to waste my energy wondering what if but rather try to focus with gratitude on the path I’m on.

Here is the poet himself reading his great poem. Enjoy! (If the link doesn’t take you there directly, you can find it at Youtube)

REFLECTIONS: Have you struggled with roads not taken?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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2 Responses to The Road Not Taken

  1. Susan Bass says:

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, Dr. Patterson, how could you ever ponder the road not taken? Isn’t it obvious that God wanted you to take the path that you did so that you could be my therapist in the 1980s and help to shape the personality that I was evolving into? You said that people can outgrow therapy. Maybe. Nonetheless, one cannot outgrow parents, certain teachers or professors, certain supervisors or friends, because some of them contribute significantly into shaping a person into who they are.

  2. Kathy McGrane says:

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed Robert Frost reading his own poem.

    I’m at a stage of my life where I find myself looking back and second-thinking my choices sometimes so I appreciated the gentle reminder that is not healthy to spend too much time wondering about the “what ifs” of the paths not taken.

    Finally, what wisdom: Perhaps all that God’s will involves for each of us is “Make your decisions out of love for yourself and for others.”

    Thanks again. I know that you have benefitted many on the path you have chosen.

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