Road or River?

Picture taken by Shuana at Pipestone Creek, AB Canada

The Road not Taken By Robert Frost

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.

I love this poem, and I think it really expresses my own sighs at not being able to choose all the roads that come my way. The necessity of choosing a path, by excluding other paths, is a hardship that we all must endure. The path we choose determines the experiences that will come our way. There is, of course, a universal journey of birth, love, loss, and death which we all experience, but the individual paths we choose to follow will lead us to unique experiences that form who we are.
In Children of the River, Linda Crew’s Cambodian characters adopt the metaphor of a river to express life’s journey. This is a fictitious story based on the stories of Cambodian refugees who were swept out of Cambodia into America by some barely negotiable rapids–war! The struggle of these refugees is to gain some sense of their own ability to navigate the river of life.

The metaphor of the river gives the feeling that our journey is less about our choosing, and more about the currents that drive us. Is life a river or a road? I guess it is both. If you have been raised in the West as part of dominant society,the privileges you take for granted will effect a belief that life is a series of choices, a simple matter of choosing your direction when you come to a fork in the road.What is it that we can’t control? The weather sometimes shakes our illusions of power. There are those born into poverty or who are physically or mentally challenged in some way, who realize that the metaphor of the road only works for a few privileged people in the world.

The river, with its currents, sharp rocks, rapids and waterfalls more accurately depicts life for most of the world. Famine, hunger, disease, poverty, disability, war, crime, and exploitation are the daily realities of most of the world’s population. These are the realities through which people must navigate, all the while seeking to become whole, to meet their responsibilities, to take care of those they love.

I realized when taking my Ed Psych course that the “locus of control” theory, seems a very Western theory. Too, our aversion to passive sentences in the English Languages expresses an insistence that we are the subjects of our own sentences, not the objects. Perhaps we in the West like to delude ourselves with the idea that we choose our paths. There are so many invisible forces that drive our choices, like the competitive nature of capitalism, the pressures to achieve academically, the psychological wounds of growing up



3 thoughts on “Road or River?

  1. I think you’re quite right, Shuana, we’ve become very risk-averse in the West because we’ve had the good fortune to be able to control so much of our lives. Now it’s difficult for us to accept accident, illness and trauma because they happen for no good reason.

  2. The “river”, as you described it, reminds me of Homer’s Odyssey and my fatalistic leanings. I’ve often pictured our reality as a deterministic tapestry that includes the “road”, what I’ve understood as a subjective perspective of an individual’s volitional experiences.

    I think this is why I see the “roads” as continual revelations of our identities (what the Fates call threads?) instead of a creation or forming of our identities. And again, like you’ve mentioned in a previous post, these threads are mysteries our associations have struggled to define.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s