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The Easy Way

"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. - Robert Frost"





I was nine years old and just finishing third grade the first time I
remember hearing this poem. I'm the first person to admit that poetry is
lost on me. Where most people see love, I see nothing. Where some see
all kinds of imagery, I see sentences put together that are supposed to
have some kind of meaning, but that meaning is just out of my reach
somewhere. I've always been that way, so I never understood why this
particular poem has stuck with me all these years. I remember sitting in
a warm, stuffy gymnasium while my brother Eric was graduating from high
school. I was bored, and, most likely, whiny. But, even at the age of
nine, I recognized, ... what ... in this poem.

A few months later I sat in my fourth grade classroom while my teacher
read to us from another Robert Frost poem. I recognized the name and was
excited about the prospect of another poem by him. I don't remember the
details of this one though. Something about a snowy day or night, and a
person who got lost; I think, but nothing more than that.

So why am I remembering this poem, quoting it, and going on and on about
Robert Frost? Okay, so part of my reason is that I don't have anything
to do this morning, but there is actually another reason; a more logical
one even.

This morning, I was thinking about things from my past. Conversations I
had, things that I did; things that I haven't thought about in forever.
This was definitely not something that I thought about with regret, but
I just kind of wondered, what if.

The summer between my ninth and tenth grade years, and then again the
next summer, I had a job working at a domestic abuse shelter. My dream
growing up had been to go into psychology, so I thought this would give
me a look at things that I might deal with in my chosen career. I was
working through the Private Industry Council, (PIC), an organization
that helps place youth and adults into the workforce while paying their
salaries. It was a way for me to get work experience and the shelter
where I was placed got a free employee, while I was making minimum wage
of $4.25 an hour and loving the experience and the money. I was supposed
to answer phones, which meant taking down information and working on the
Crisis hotline. I enjoyed myself so much the first summer that I
decided to go back the next. Things weren't quite the same that second
year. One of the things I did was to play with the kids while their
mothers were in their support group that met once a week. I got to know
a lot of people that way, and I also got to know these kids. Many of
them had emotional issues, coming from abusive homes, and they went
without many of the things that most kids take for granted. I think for
some of them, this live-in shelter was probably their first stable
environment they'd had.

I decided one day that I wanted to bring in a meal for the current
residents. I don't remember what it was, but I got prior approval to do
it, and my parents helped me get what I needed. Another staff member
prepared the food in the resident kitchen, and we just spent some
quality time with the residents, talking, and listening to music. One of
the ladies was interested in going back to school to get an education so
that she could get a good job to make a better life for herself and her
kids. Her kids, one in particular, was a great kid, but had some
behavioral issues that sometimes got out of hand. For whatever reason
though, he'd listen to me, so I was able to help in some ways to calm
him down. My dad worked at the local university, so I offered to get her
some information. The next day was one of my days off, so I told her I'd
call her with the information. I guess one of the other residents didn't
like what was happening, so she went to the shelter director after I
called the next day and complained. I got called into the office, and,
eventually, after a few other incidents with staff members who had been
let go for totally unrelated reasons, I decided that I needed to get out
of there myself.

I thought about that meal this morning though, and wondered whatever
happened to that lady and her kids. I wondered if she'd ever gotten her
education, and if, in some way, I played a part in that, even if it got
me in trouble in the process. I don't regret helping her, but I wonder,
what would have happened if I hadn't offered the help, or if I hadn't
made the phone call with the information. Would I have continued to
finish out my term there? I just don't know.

There are so many situations like this. So many what-if's, and so many
uncertainties - so many times when that fork in the road that Robert
Frost mentions in his poem comes up. Have I chosen the easier path for
myself? Have I made decisions based on what, to me, seems like the
easier path to take because I wanted the easy way out? I don't know.
Sure, there are things that, if I had the chance, I'd do over again to
see if the outcome was any different, but we don't get do-over's in life
typically.

I think it'd be interesting though, if somehow, someday we could look at
the other alternative and see how things would have turned out. Who
would I be? Where would I be? I've always compared life to those
choose-your-own-adventure books that I used to love to read as a kid. If
I made a bad decision, I could go back to where I went wrong and choose
the other option. But, even in those books, there were overlaps; times
when, even with different choices, my path ended up going the same way
it had with another choice.

So again, I ask, why this poem? I suppose what it really comes down to
is that, even as a little 9-year-old kid, I somehow knew that I'd have
to make choices; choices that went way beyond whether I wanted chocolate
cake or carrot cake for dessert, or which homework to start on first.
Even if I didn't completely understand all that the poem was saying, I
understood even without knowing. Life's funny sometimes I suppose.