“The Road Not Taken”: A Meaningful Path and a Purposeful Life

March 18

Don’t take myself too seriously. Live with no regrets. Choose for myself the meaning of my life’s narrative. These are intended messages in the Robert Frost poem, “The Road not taken.” But most people only remember the last line: “I took the road less travelled and it made all the difference.”

I have always loved exploring paths. Usually, I am on a marked path from which I know I can find my way back home. But whether it is one path or an intersection of paths, there is always for me a curiosity; I wonder where the path leads and what I will see on the way.

According to an exchange of letters between Frost and his poet friend Edward Thomas, Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” as kind of a joke to tease Thomas about his indecisiveness, the seriousness in which he made choices.

When I am hiking, I do not often hesitate very long at a crossroads in the path. One path catches my fancy and that’s where I go. In life we don’t always recognize crossroads and sometimes the direction of our lives unfolds in an unplanned way because of a chance meeting or an impulsive, catch-my-fancy adventure. In the poem Frost shows a playfulness about choices. Life is an adventure; every path has its joys and sorrows and life lessons.

In the referenced commentary Katherine Robinson argues that in Frost’s poem there is not a better or worse path, both paths are infrequently walked; a whimsical fancy, rather than a decisive choice decided the explorer on which path to take.

In the poem as in life, one path leads to another and we can never go back and take the other path and see and experience what we would have if we had taken that path in the first place. The path we choose makes all the difference, but the poem doesn’t tell us what is that difference.  It is only when we look back on our lives and our choices that we understand the meaning of our choices, the difference the choices have made.  

I cannot go back and choose a different path in life.  Nevertheless, I can write or re-write my life narrative by choosing what meaning to give to “events” in my life story. This concept forms the basis of narrative therapy. I am struck by the wisdom of self-determination by choosing a life-giving narrative. I can choose to recount and remind myself of all my failures, or I can remind myself of the graces and things I have learned from them. I can be a victim in my narrative by reminding myself of all the times when I have felt wounded by someone, unappreciated and undervalued. Or I can remind myself of how loved I am, how valued and appreciated I am to those who are closest to me.

When we look back on our lives, we all want to see a narrative that shows to ourselves, if not also to others that our lives have made a difference for good in the world. It is my life, and I get to create the narrative. The meaning I take from my narrative up to this time in my life, will help me to create the narrative of my future, in which I can choose to live as the person I know myself to be.

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for those who have helped me to find my narrative.