Life is Choice. As Americans, every moment of our conscious lives, we are blessed with the ability to choose. We make small, seemingly insignificant choices, and we make large, momentous decisions. Each of those choices contributes to who we are, and who we become over time. We can’t control everything that happens in our lives, but we can choose how we respond.
Choices have consequences. I’m reminded of the often quoted lines from “The Road Not Taken,” one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems:
“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. ”
In my younger days, that poem was a favorite among those who saw themselves as non-conformists, bent on being fiercely self-reliant, in the tradition of Thoreau. That bent was fairly popular back in the sixties and seventies. We failed to understand, however, that we had entirely missed Frost’s point. You see, the poem is not about the road less traveled by. It is about the road not taken, as the title clearly indicates. In fact, Frost clearly makes the point in saying that the road he chose, though he fancied it as being less traveled, was really no more or less desirable than the other:
“And both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.”
So, though he committed to one road over the other based merely on his own perception, it was impossible to say which would have been a better road for him to travel. All he could say for certain was that his choice had “made all the difference.” But, he doesn’t really say whether that difference was good or bad.
Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” then, is not a celebration of the fact that he had sought his own, unique way, but a realization that he would never know which way was better, and a lament that he could never go back and take the other.
The older I become, the more I understand and appreciate what Frost meant. The toughest choices in life are the ones whose outcomes are either unclear or equally desirable in appearance. Isn’t that true? And, isn’t this the way life really is? We cannot know, at least in this life, that we are always making the right choice, especially when we rely solely on our own limited perception. All we can know is that our choices, indeed, will make all the difference. That’s life.
The ability to choose is vitally important to our lives as individuals, as human beings. It is no less important to the life of a nation. We are blessed to live in a nation that offers the freedom to choose. Here’s to good choices.