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…
I carry words with me wherever I go. My experiences are filtered through a lens of things I have read, scraps of poems I’ve memorized, sentences in otherwise forgotten paragraphs. It is because of this quirk that this Robert Frost poem has been bouncing around my brain the last few days, as I decide each day where I’ll go, where I’ll stay, how I’ll spend my time. The decisions of a vagrant. It is a poem that has become a symbol in the American mind, one that most of us have read or, at the very least, heard mentioned in a presumably “life lesson” tone of voice. One day you will have to decide between two important things, I imagine that conversation going. And the one you choose will define the rest of your life. I no longer believe this, if I ever did. I don’t believe that there are a handful of big decisions that define us, or, at least, I don’t believe in the simplicity of that statement.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about choices I’ve made, both recently and far, far back in the irremediable past, trying to sift the important ones from the much more numerous “unimportant” ones, trying to look at the road not taken and see how far down that road my imagination can take me. Where would I be if I hadn’t chosen to switch high schools after freshman year, for example, thereby meeting my first non-white, spanish-speaking friends? (If you know me, you know why this is important.) Or if I hadn’t gotten fired from that damn toy store and chosen to accept a position as a server at Joe’s Crab Shack (equally damned but for the amazing friends I made there)? Or if I had gone to school in Santa Barbara or New York instead of San Francisco? If Adri hadn’t invited me to Cartagena for her cousin’s wedding, thereby forcing me to finally decide Yes. I will travel. Now. Who would I be? Or where? Or with whom?
… Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as far as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same…
In my little world, the way people reacted to my traveling alone through South America made me feel like I was special, brave, like I was choosing the path that wanted wear. Maybe I am. Maybe I did. But now, having met so many people out in the world who are doing the same thing as I, to a greater or lesser degree (quantitatively, not qualitatively speaking), I see that I am one of many. That due to a series of choices each individual has made, somehow we have all ended up in this part of the world, our belongings strapped to our backs, our hearts open by necessity to the possibility of the unknown. Sometimes it’s comforting to realize that you’re actually not so special, because it means that there are others like you, who feel the same gravitational pulls to places they’ve never seen, whose feet also burn from walking the same pavement over and over again.
… 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…
Each decision I make here, while traveling, makes all the difference in the world. Something as small as where to eat lunch can leave an indelible mark on everything that follows. Even unto the exact moment I arrive somewhere can point me down an unexpected path. Each person I meet, each landscape I see, each new and relevant thought I have, is a result of an infinite number of tiny decisions that I have made, mostly, automatically.
To give an example, on Wednesday night I walked into my hostel in Cuenca at approximately 8:45 at night. The man who held the door for me to lumber through (when I have my backpack(s) on I suddenly understand on a molecular level the phrase “bull in a china shop”) ended up asking if I wanted to join him and his friends to go salsa dancing that night. I said yes (almost automatically). Because of this, I met his friend who I later ended up spending a good amount of time with, who turned out to be an itinerant Colombian artist and jewelry-maker. In the buzzed ebullience that came from two loaded gin and maracuyá cocktails, I excitedly and without provocation whipped out the quartz crystal my mom had bought me in Salento, Colombia, for protection (which, despite my skepticism may be working as I haven’t been mugged since). He took it from me and the next day presented me with a beautifully-wrought wire wrapping with the quartz in the middle, strung on a necklace. Each of these decisions, had I made them differently, would have led me somewhere else, with unforeseeable consequences, either good or bad. These are the small things, but each one is entirely dependent on a seemingly meaningless series of decisions. This is what people call fate. I don’t buy into such lofty and romantic ideas of serendipity, but I can understand the allure of believing it.
… 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.
I had grandiose ideas about this trip before I left: of tongue-in-cheek apotheoses, of love (physical, spiritual, geographical), of awe-struck silences. Like all expectations, these both romanticize and fall laughably short of the truth. But if I am sure of nothing else, I am sure of this: each decision, no matter how small, that I have made, whether it was to take the road more or less-travelled by, I am who I am because of it. Each choice I make reverberates, like billions of infinite strings of light, into the future. Each thing I say, do, think, has changed the trajectory of my life and will continue to do so. Every second that passes in which I do this instead of that, ensures that nothing will ever be the same.