“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
Than took the other …”
So begins the poem by Robert Frost. It was the basis of a talk given recently by Bob Worner at the Underwood Unitarian Church, a mind-bending presentation, and I can’t get the topic out of my head ever since.
Last night when I couldn’t sleep, instead of counting sheep I enumerated all the places I have lived in my lifetime. They totaled thirty-five. Thirty five! That would mean that if I proportioned them out, I would have moved every 2.14 years. That seems almost irresponsible. Or frivolous. Or perhaps, just adventurous?
Looking back, some of the paths seem bold and thrilling. Others, just practical necessities. Nothing more. But some still hold a yearning for what “might have been.” And now I hear my husband’s voice, chiding me for focusing on the past, exhorting me to (thank you Ram Dass) “be here now,” and he’s right of course but one can only wonder . . .
The first time I recall diverging was because of my best friend Margot. Throughout high school we had been together in theatrical productions, auditioned for creative writing club together (no small feat), shared friends and passions and felt, with all the braggadocio of youth, that we were destined for lives of achievement. We both applied and were accepted at UCLA and planned to go off to college together in the fall. But in the summer Margot went away to participate in a theatre workshop at a small private school and secured a scholarship there and changed her higher education plans.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I was crushed. And even more, that I didn’t have the courage, the gumption, the self-sufficiency to continue on by myself. And so I made up the excuse that it would be helpful if I took off a year and worked to save up money for my education, just one year, and then I would continue on into that big world of higher learning and career and adventure. I would do it later, I told myself.
Turn, turn, turn. A pivotal turning point. I imagine a tree with limbs in every direction, smaller branches extending out, and I choose one limb which leads to a branch and that branches off again, and now I’m so far from the trunk that I don’t see my way back. I have careened off into a direction I never suspected, into a labyrinth of divergent turnings.
That was the first time I took the other path.
In a parallel universe, who was the other Diane? The one who most likely chose the conservative route, getting a B.A. in education with a minor in English and ended up teaching literature and creative writing at the local high school before marrying the geeky but handsome history teacher, buying a house in their home town, raising a family who then provided grandchildren who all gathered on holidays, amen. That Diane would have dabbled a bit in little theater, worked for local political causes, and kept a journal, writing every day about her secret dreams of living abroad and becoming best friends with Anais Nin, of penning the next small press sensation, of playing a mime in big city street dramas, and marching through Selma, Alabama arm in arm with Martin Luther King.
That is not to say that parallel Diane did any of that. But she went to Mexico City and lived for a year, helping to publish a small journal about bullfighting, worked actively as a member of SNCC and SDS in the civil rights days, took college classes in literature with an emphasis on folklore and mythology, lived in Big Sur, California in the 70’s, helped create and run three restaurants, focused on meditation and esoteric studies, moved like a gypsy up and down the west coast, learning to be a Master Gardener while her husband designed and built houses. Oh, that’s me.
And most importantly, along the way had two magnificent children and married her best friend.
“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.”