If life is ultimately dependent on the choices we make, then Education should focus on the skills we require and understandings we need in order to make them wisely. In his poem, “The Road not Taken,” Robert Frost offers suggestions, and I have questions…
Dear Mr. Frost, I know all about your choice of the road less travelled, the grassier one. The one that wanted wear. But I wonder. In our lives, while we tend look ahead at impending decisions, we seldom arrive at those junctures with comfort or certainty or the emotional security of knowing or understanding the consequences of the choices we must make. To do so would require a modicum of prescience.
When the road splits, we choose one. What I dearly want to understand is not just the merit of a road less travelled, but how to even recognize the fact that it is! Whether I move in one or the other direction, how can I not be left ultimately with a “What if?” and with that, unrequited experience.
You see, those forks in the road, past, present, and future, have all at some point been in the future. To understand which are travelled less than others, to know which make more sense than the alternatives, to determine which are better, is, at any pending juncture, intimidating. Though the actions best taken may well be suggested by the paths that lead to forks, the implications and inexorable consequences of the choices to be made remain, for the most part, unknowable. Consequentially, the propositions are daunting.
I know! Some say, “Of course, everything suggests you turn right.” Others arrive at the completely opposite conclusion. Ultimately, Interpretation is the nearest thing we have to prescience. The interpretations that ultimately guide us to one path over another present us with perhaps the most unsettling of human experiences. Risk, the fear of loss, the unknown.
Carpe Diem! they say. We are told to celebrate risk. Challenge ourselves. Carve our own paths through life. Go where no (hu)man has gone before. These are all noble. Admirable. And yet, every decision we make leads us in a direction rife with unknowables. Each time we decide, new consequences emerge, not only for ourselves, but also for those who have been parts of our journeys to each point of divergence.
And then there are those things that are born of events and relationships during our travels along the paths we’ve already chosen. As a simple consequence of being, haven’t they also their own rights to exist. What of them? If each decision we make marks the demise of things that may have otherwise been, then each decision we make also becomes an act of sacrifice.
So how should we proceed? How do we move ahead? They say life is full of compromise. Every choice we make leads us in one direction over all possible others, the sum total of which become entire lifetimes unrealized. Roads less travelled? I would venture a parallel characterization: lifetimes lost.
The choices we make carry with them the weight and responsibility of sacrifices made and possibilities abandoned. As a consequence, each choice, every road, every sacrifice comes with it a promise and a responsibility to ensure it was the right one. “Life is like pain dipped in honey.” This is a line from another poem I did not fully grasp in my youth. Now, Mr. Frost, framed by the roads I have taken and sacrifices I have made, I think I do.
The most comfort in conclusion I can reach is one, driven by compromise, and perhaps, importantly, the respect owed to the sacrifices I have myself made: maybe those sacrifices are, in reflection, our best guides, to help us learn, to teach us how to make the best of the choices we do make. We owe them our dedication, effort, open minds, passion, love, and inspiration.
Perhaps, with that, our paths will lead us to new achievements and greater satisfaction. We may also discover ways to resume, in our journeys through life, paths we considered lost forever.