Imagine: A Choice to Nowhere (and it’s All Right)
Human nature often revolves around one’s desire for self-importance and individualism.
“The Road Not Taken” is a classic Robert Frost poem that exploits individual desire by utilizing wily verses and legendarily closes: “And that has made all the difference” (20).
Through ambiguity, the poem serves as a timeless catalyst of perpetual interpretation. One such example, an episode of “Orange is the New Black” presents a brazen assessment of Frost’s epic as a prisoner proclaims,
“Everyone thinks the poem means to…do your own thing. But…the two roads are…the same…[the choice is] random…[but] everyone wants…[to] think that their choices mattered, but…shit just happens the way that it happens, and it does not mean anything” (Hess).
The truth is that one need not fret nor regret yet to be determined consequence; accept the choice not as a struggle but as the founding of a new condition.
Now, muse a new tale of choice that during retellings could be cleverly modified to influence an ever-changing audience. On some days, the story could utilize a suspenseful delivery akin to a notorious episode of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” On other days, the narrative may echo the sentiments of “The Road Not Taken” traveler whom alleges:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence” (16-17).
The origins of this tale can be traced back to November 2010, as an accomplished hero returned from deployment primed to reap the benefits of reward.
Nineteen years of untiring devotion was poised to snowball into an avalanche of success. Everything was perfect—except it wasn’t. Our protagonist held a guarded secret. Our hero would face a choice; this would be a “The Road Not Taken” moment as “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both” (1-2). But there would be no taut struggle.
An unexpected moment of reckoning would grant clarity.
Chronic bouts of pain that plagued the hero grew worse as numbness extended from the shoulder down to the fingers. The injury was a secret and if it were the first injury—then it would not have been such a “big deal.” Unfortunately, it was the third injury to the right side of the hero’s body during a five-year period that began with a severely busted foot in 2005.
October 11, 2007, a personal day of infamy, a wrongly planted leg during a base defense exercise in Korea led to a dislocated right knee and three torn ligaments.
Six months later, the hero was not only running on it—but was running a lot. Why? That’s the military way. Military commanders provide constant pressure to perform—medical advice be damned.
In December 2008, a knee operation would result in removal of broken bone and most of the knee’s cartilage. Furthermore, the surgeon stated, “Our hero has the worst knee I have ever seen…and it will only grow worse. The hero must stop running.”
To not run was not reasonable as it was a required duty but the hero’s knee would continue to deteriorate. Two years later, another injury and a new dilemma. At this moment, a newfound awareness had fallen upon our hero echoing Frost’s verses:
“And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could” (3-4).
Long story short, by August 2011, it was determined that an October surgery would be required. In the meantime, the hero mentally accepted this reality and didn’t think much more of it…until one day.
On that day, the hero was standing outside as a middle-aged gentleman relying upon a cane would slump along his struggling journey. This image ignited an unrelated flashback involving a nineteen-year-old soldier injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The youngster had a broken back that required immediate surgery, or otherwise, he faced permanent paralyzation. The closest hospital was a 45-minute helicopter ride away in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
It was the hero’s job to inform the pilots that due to a “haboob” (an intense dust storm) between the hero’s location and Kandahar—the weather conditions would not allow any attempt at transporting the young patient for at least twelve hours.
Sadly, the hero’s forecast was precise, and the injured teen would arrive much too late for any surgical attempt. The sight of a hobbled fellow mixed with this flashback—provided clarity.
The young soldier popped into the hero’s mind, as he realized the soldier had no choice on being crippled—but the hero did have a choice. At that moment, a realization hit—the hero’s decision would likely determine his fated end. The options were to continue a path of extended years of service at the risk of being crippled or to just retire.
At that moment, a decision was made.
The hero, like Frost’s traveler, realized:
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back” (14-15).
Immediately, the hero would submit a retirement request to take effect briskly after his 20th year of completed service. Later, attempts to talk the hero out of it were made, but the decision was final. Following a successful surgery, the hero retired on January 6, 2012.
Future telling of the hero’s story may embrace added drama or flair, but the truth will remain simpler.
In reality, just like all that had come before and all that shall follow—military days are numbered. Regardless if it’s two or forty years, no one stays forever. Some will follow “The Road Not Taken” narrative relying upon Frost’s famous words:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / I took the one less traveled by” (18-19).
Many others will lay claim to Frank Sinatra’s famous “My Way.” As for this story’s hero, he chooses to reminisce utilizing The Talking Heads “Road to Nowhere,” and a frank revelation that:
We’re on a road to nowhere
There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right.
Upon our farewell, I propose for you not to fret past choices, instead celebrate the successes within the selection of individualism.
After all, you are a unique being—just like everyone else.