Who hasn’t had to memorize “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening?” What 7th or 8th grader hasn’t had to study “The Road Not Taken?” Robert Frost is one of the great American poets studied by school children across the nation.
What does “The Road Not Taken” have to do with grief or loss?
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;
What if your “yellow wood” is your home office in the wee, dark hours after a horrible accident has taken your youngest daughter’s life? A “yellow wood” could just as easily be the backseat of the car as your mother takes you home after seeing the team doctor. Homes are awfully lonely in the wake of divorce – even when bathed in yellow sunshine.
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,
We’ve all stood at our own forks in the road. We’ve all inspected the paths.
As I surveyed the landscape in the hours after Brooke’s accident, I recognized something dark and grim about one path. I’d been down that road before. Not the exact same road, but one similar. Did I want to travel that road again? Where would it lead this time?
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.
Unlike the traveler in the poem, I don’t look so gleefully upon the first path as an equal option and certainly not one to which I’d voluntarily someday return.
One of those paths led straight into a perilous pit. That path is all too inviting – and familiar. During Hurricane Katrina, our home was flooded with over six feet of water. The girls and I lost “everything.” Following Katrina, I took a path that was flooded with company (bad pun, sorry). Like so many other victims of Katrina, I numbed the pain. A glass of wine to relax after work. Understandable – the hour-drive from Baton Rouge to Mandeville could take up to three-hours (rarely more) during those days. And a glass of wine while I prepared dinner. One with dinner. One to relax after dinner… A glass of wine here and a glass of wine there and pretty soon we are talking real wine.
Two years later and a few pounds heavier (have you counted the calories in a bottle of wine?), I shook off the foggy weight of loss. While time had passed, I certainly hadn’t made any real progress down the road of “dealing with” the very significant loss of Katrina.
I couldn’t allow myself to end up on that path again. I couldn’t afford to dull years of my life only to awaken one day to the reality that I would still have to grieve the loss of Brooke.
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
Though Frost’s traveler looks upon both roads wistfully as equal options, the forked roads of grief and loss are not that forgiving. However, those of us suffering with loss, addiction, divorce or a myriad of other pains have something very important in common with the traveler of the yellow wood – choosing the road less traveled will make all the difference.
What is the road less traveled? It’s simply to choose hope, the path that forges out a future somewhere beyond the “bent in the undergrowth.”
Standing at the two roads diverged before you – this path is not the grassy one lined with a parade of butterflies and lilies. That’s actually the beckoning path of the abyss. No, take a closer look at the muddy one chockfull of potholes. Not your everyday potholes. These are the kind that yell out to New Orleans’ potholes, “Git in mah belly.” It’s a gritty, rocky road.
Here’s the deal. The folks over at the “Path of Hope” spent all of their resources on the end of the path. The folks over at the “Path of the Abyss” did just the opposite. They spent every last tax dollar sprucing up the entrance. Problem is they ran out of money quick and the path leads nowhere – at least nowhere good.
If we all know the ultimate truth about both paths, why is the Path of the Abyss bumper-to-bumper traffic while the Path of Hope has room to pass? There are as many roadblocks as there are individuals. For some, addiction is real. (Despite the earlier story, I am not an alcoholic but I do not make light of alcoholism or other addiction. It is real.) For others, mental illness (often undiagnosed) is at play. And, then there is fear. Sometimes – as is frequently seen with victims of violence, abuse and oppression – threats of harm and other lies instill a fear, deep and disconnecting.
There is another obstacle that veers travelers toward the abyss. Ironically, the source of this detour is one that should serve as a traffic cop directing everyone toward the Path of Hope. Well-meaning family and friends hand out platitudes like “get out of jail free” cards. Things such as “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Or have you ever heard, “When God closes a door, he opens a window?” Perhaps my favorite (and I’ve been guilty of saying it) “Everything happens for a reason.”
These words are spoken out of love by those at a loss for words. They just want to take away our pain. Sadly, these threadbare clichés make for a poor traveling cloak.
How can we do it better? I don’t have a full answer but I know that facing the reality of pain is an area where the culture within the church and society as a whole have a lot of room for improvement.
We are instructed to love our neighbors. Part of loving our neighbors must be to provide real options for dealing with real issues. For those standing on the outside, churches can be intimidating. If you have real problems (and we all do to some degree or another), the church should not only be a place for well-visits but it should be open for urgent care and a flat-out Level 1 trauma center with state-of-the-art care.
Floodlights are being erected at the gateway of the Path of Hope so that travelers can see the progress that is to come down the road. Changes are coming, albeit slowly at times. In the meantime, here is a list of “traffic cops” who can help guide you toward the Path of Hope:
Alcoholics Anonymous – www.aa.org
American Association of Christian Counselors – www.aacc.net
American Counseling Association – http://www.counseling.org
Anxiety and Depression Association of America – www.adaa.org
Bereaved Parents of the USA – www.bereavedparentsusa.org
Catholic Charities – www.catholicharitiesusa.org
Children’s Advocacy Center – http://www.nationalcac.org
The Compassionate Friends (support for family after the loss of a child) – www.compassionatefriends.org
Divorce Care – www.divorcecare.org
GriefShare – www.griefshare.org
Journey Out (anti-human trafficking) – www.journeyout.org
Narcotics Anonymous – www.na.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness – www.nami.org
National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-373-7888 www.polarisproject.org
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline – 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) www.rainn.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 – www.suicidepreventionallifeline.org (for online chat)
The Salvation Army – www.salvationarmyuse.org
This list doesn’t event scratch the surface of places to turn for help. If you have others please share! My hope is that it at least provides a start.
Are you at a fork in the road? Have you started down a dead-end path? Do you fear that you’ve already reached an abyss? Unlike Frost’s traveler, we need not tell our stories with a sigh “somewhere ages and ages hence.”
The Path of Hope is available to us. The Path of Hope is always available to us.
There is nothing special about me or my circumstances that I chose a path of hope in what seems a hopeless situation. As I sat alone trying to wrap my head around the events that had just turned my life upside down, I simply acknowledged that I had traveled down one too many dead-end roads in my lifetime and recognized at a critical moment that another dead-end road was calling my name.
More importantly, I consciously chose to lean on my faith. “Easy for you,” you might say. Not really. My road to faith has been a long and winding one. In fact, it is still a journey. I’m not even sure that “faith” is a destination at which one arrives so much as it is more of a companion along the way.
Hope to see you along the Path!