A Heavy Sigh

The Road Not Taken, From 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;

Below I will post the last stanza of this poem, but I encourage you to click the link above and read the whole poem (it is not long).  It ends with this:

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.

Perhaps some people read this as inspirational to take the road less traveled (based on the final line “And that has made all the difference”, but I do not.

The key to the meaning behind this poem is hidden in the first line of this final stanza:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

I added the emphasis on “sigh”, for it is with this single word that I think the poem’s secret lies.  There is a heaviness in this foretold recolection of having taken the road less traveled by.  Just because it was this decision that made all the difference, does not make it a better decision by any means.  In fact, I believe that by adding the word “sigh”, the other is trying to warn us of something… that road, the one less traveled… it’s not as easy. It is hard. And it is hard simply because it is less traveled by.

Profound. Truly.

Some people want to be unique, special, an individual like no other.  To be a rebel and go against the grain, to travel the road less traveled.  But it is almost as if Frost is warning of the temptation to do what teachers are always telling kids to do – be an individual, don’t follow the crowd, stand out and be unique.  Really? At what cost?

I’ve been down that road, and I too shall be telling, with a sigh, that because I chose the road less traveled, it has, indeed, made all the difference.

But I should stop, for a moment of reflection.  Because my first reaction to the word “sigh” was to think that it was with some “regret” that the author reported that he took the road less traveled.  But perhaps “regret” is the wrong feeling or emotion.  No, perhaps it is simply what a sigh so often is… a pause, but a weary pause at that. A tired, reflective, introspective pause.  It may not be regret at all.  It may simply be a heaviness carried over the “ages and ages” from walking alone… seeing the woods around you in a way that the other travelers never did nor ever will.

It is like the man released from Plato’s cave – who sees the world as it is, outside of the cave of shadows, and returns to tell his friends that what they are seeing is not, in fact, real.  And he is booed.  He is insulted and told to leave.  He is called crazy, among other things, because they walked the road that the others walked – they saw the woods from that angle, and anyone who says there is even another road to walk – is downright insane.

It’s a heaviness.  A burden.  A lonely journey, but not necessarily a regretted journey.

I suppose it is as you want to see it.  Would you rather walk alone, seeing the world from a different perspective, having the masses not understand you or support your claims of a different viewpoint?  Or would you want to walk the weathered road, step by step with friends and family and familiarity?  A road where everyone agrees with you because you share the same experiences. It does seem nice.

But maybe there is a weight and heaviness to Frost’s “sigh” that is not a burden at all – but instead is just that – weight.  It is full. It is complete.  It is full of memories, experiences, stories, challenges, discoveries, disappointments, surprises, victory, defeat, loneliness, enlightenment, confusion, joy, sorrow, contentedness, beauty, darkness, light…. all the things life can and should be made of.  It is the finishing a very long book sort of sigh.  The finishing of a marathon sigh.  It is full of adventure, perserverience and fulfillment.

That is the road I want to travel, no matter how lonely it may seem at times.  And I hope the “sigh” in “ages and ages hence” is full of weight and fullness, and is not a sigh of regret or of giving up.

Adventures in Grace

The older I get, the more I realize what “grace” is all about.

Perhaps the older you get, the more you personally realize how fucked up you are, and how – for most of us – we never intended to be so dysfunctional.   When you are a teenager, or a young adult, you look at your dysfunctional family and lament how you wish your parents were “normal” and paid more attention to you and didn’t make so many mistakes.  It’s an ideal way of thinking, really, because you have NO idea what it is like to raise a child (or 5 children in my parent’s case).  It’s hard to forgive your parents (or whoever it is in your life) because you just assume they could have been better (and perhaps they could have been) but you never take the chance to weigh in the circumstances and the variables that played into why exactly they were how they were, or why a certain event played out the way it did.

As I grow older, and I experience lapses in patience, bouts of fatigue and sickness that leave me bewildered and hanging on by my fingertips (so to speak), all the while having to take care of toddlers whom I barely relate with, I am beginning to “understand” how hard it is to be perfect… how utterly impossible it is.  And it is, perhaps, out of a desperate need of grace (mainly from those I let down) that I am beginning to understand it more and more.

There are so many problems with the assumption that someone is “bad” and can be “better”.  

Well, no. Let me restate that.  Because it’s obvious that a man or woman who takes advantage of children in some hurtful way is indeed “bad” and needs to be “better”.  Or a man or woman who cheats and steals is in fact “bad” and hurting others and needs to get “better”.

No, that’s safe to say.
So let me try again.

There are so many problems with the assumption that the reason someone is “bad” is of their own “evil” doing and because they have brought this on themselves and they just need to “make a decision” and they will get “better” – the old “repent”, or “turn the other way”.  

Any assumption is dangerous, as every situation is different… but that’s exactly my point – every situation is different, and grace is needed in all situations because the fact is – we just don’t know.  You don’t know if the “evil” terrorist just loves hurting people and from an early age made a decision to hate people and hurt people (probably not) or if over years of misinformation, misunderstanding, prejudice, judgements and assumptions – they are acting not out of trying to hurt others or be “evil” or “bad” – but they are simply doing what they feel is right.

My point is this, the more you know about the history of a person, the details behind why they are exactly how they are, the more grace you can have for them.  

I think this perspective comes from having kids.  I look at my girls and think, there is no way any of them could grow up to intentionally hurt (even kill) another person… but I know, it’s possible.  Because it’s happened before.  Children grow up, and some children grow up to be awful human beings who take advantage of others and destroy other people’s lives.  But I DO NOT believe that these people wake up one day and make this decision to hurt others.  I would argue it is mainly other people’s influence and actions towards an individual that determines how that person will turn out.  Now, I don’t believe that 100% of the time, because I’ve seen people react differently to similar circumstances.  One child may turn away from their abusive parents and find peace in a life far away from the hate and pain of their childhood – while their sibling might grow up to resent and hate their parents and allow that hatred to infiltrate their souls and fill them with the exact same bitterness that they were shown.

Maybe what I am saying is that I am believing less and less in free-will.  OMG. I can’t believe I just said that… but more and more I am convinced that people are not to blame for the decisions they make, but instead they are lost, confused and ignorant to what is causing them to act a certain way.  We are so unaware, most of the time, of the stimuli that are affecting the way we are… our mental state, our bodies health, the shows we watch, the people we hang out with…  Grace is needed… grace is forgiveness, it is understanding, it is letting go of the “facts” of someone’s actions and looking beyond that to the person they could be if they were free from all the chains that entrap them, that shape (have shaped) them into what they are.

I believe there is a God that understands all things.  An all-knowing God who sees all and forgives all.  A God who displays grace to all people because that God knows exactly WHY they are the way they are, and exactly what they could be if the things outside of their control were different.

I’m not saying that people don’t get better, and that ultimately it doesn’t begin with an acknowledgement of “sin” or wrong doing, and a turning around / repenting sort of thing.  Sure.  But there is no path back to perfection (at least in this life)… and some chains are permanent… and I believe that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be like him… to accept all people, no matter how they are, or how they are living, or the things they do – we welcome them and love them and accept them.  It’s not a behavioral religion – Christianity – it shouldn’t be at least.  It is a LOVE religion.  And love, and grace, covers a multitude of sins.

Live with more grace today.  Let things go. Try it. I’m going to.

Sunday Movie Night: Ides of March

Sunday nights are movie nights. Not for the family; that’s Friday nights. No, for me.

Not every Sunday night (I’m not that rich) but about once a month, I try and go out and catch a movie, alone. It’s a way for me to refuel, collect my thoughts, prepare for the coming week, and just relax. But it’s also a place for me to be inspired/influenced/taught.  Movies have always played that role in my life, even if my fault has always been being too gullible with Hollywood and allowing cinema to effect the way I see the world a little too much.  Movies serve a number of functions, but mainly: a source of entertainment (used to make money), propaganda (used to influence people and sell them on an idea/concept/belief), and as an open ended art form (used to inspire and stir the imagination).  There may be others, but these are the three categories I can think of now.

Some examples:

  • Entertainment: The Hangover
  • Propaganda: An Inconvenient Truth
  • Art: Koyaanisqatsi

Again, there may be more or these may be bad examples, but this is what I can think of right now.

The movie I saw on this particular Sunday night, was “The Ides of March” (with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, among others).  Of course every movie is going to have some percentage of those categories I listed above, but I would mainly categorize this movie under Propaganda.  That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining or art. But mainly, I think it was propaganda.

I won’t get into the movie, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I do want to say this about propaganda: It’s not all bad unless you are completely unaware that it is, in fact, propaganda.

Personally, when I think of propaganda, I think of something like Nazi Germany – and the way they used art and ads and songs and film to convince people that Jews should be hated, even killed.  Definitely not the birth place of propaganda, but it stands out as a horrifying way propaganda was used for bad in the modern era the Nazi’s utilized modern mediums such as film and poster art.

But I suppose not all propaganda is bad.  I mean, advertising is, in fact, propaganda.  It is trying to convince you of something.

You NEED this car.
You will be happy IF you buy this TV.
Boys will date you IF you use this face cream.
Girls in short dresses will talk to you if you drink Bud Light.

Maybe I should not have given those examples after stating that not all propaganda is bad.  But, I suppose it will suffice to make my point.  Propaganda is only bad when you are unaware of the fact that it is (whatever IT is) in fact, propaganda – a message that is being communicated to deliberately get you to change your mind, or change your perspective on something, some person, some product, or even yourself.

When people are unaware of this fact, they may mindlessly buy into the  propaganda, which is usually aimed at their emotions, and thus results in horrible consequences, such as genocide. (that would be an extreme, and I won’t say that genocide is caused ONLY by propaganda, but you get the idea).

And what pisses me off is that propaganda is ALL AROUND us and most people are so UNAWARE of it, and in fact model their entire lives around the messages they receive from propaganda.

But here is the fascinating thing about propaganda: why does it work?  How could some commercial of a hand holding a pretty little iPhone, make me desperately want to buy one and feel worthless if I don’t have one?  How could a commercial cause me to buy something I absolutely do not need (not need, in the survival sense)?  Why are we so manipulative… or not manipulative (though that is a valid question too) but, you know, so easily manipulated?  We are like little lemmings (forgive the example if you have no idea what I’m talking about) who walk off the cliff because the person in front of us did.

I saw this video of this old Candid Camera episode (from like the 60’s or something) and they had a camera on an elevator door.  Three or four actors would walk in with one unsuspecting person.  The actors would all then immediately face the rear of the elevator – and all of these non-actors would walk in, look around, and then face the rear – not questioning it at all.

In fact, they had this one poor kid, probably in his early 20’s, come in and look around, totally confused, but wanting to not be the odd one out, so he faces the rear.  Then the actors turn, before the door closes, to the left – and the kid does too!  Then the doors open again and everyone is facing the rear again, even the kid!

I’ve seen other experiments like this too, where people do not want to be… I don’t know, wrong?  The only one NOT doing something?  Left out?

But why are we like this?

This is some people’s ENTIRE existence… to attain whatever it is they are told by whoever is doing the selling that they need to attain.

Seems so… controlling. NOT-free. Like a prison.

On the flip side, and I’ll end here, you have to at least listen to the propaganda, because like I said – it’s not all bad.  Sometimes the message is something you need to hear, or be taught.  To claim that you are an individual, in no need of instruction and teaching, is to be just as dangerous as the fool who listens and obeys, without questioning or at least contemplating what he or she has been shown or taught.