A Road Less Traveled

July 01, 2010

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood ... And I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

— Robert Frost

Faced with two options leading into the uncertain territory of our senior year in high school, I and a few free spirits selected English Seminar for our senior language track. While most of our classmates took the path of least resistance into the standard English IV regimen, our choice of the "road less traveled" proved to be a watershed experience.

Understand, this was not without some initial trepidation. Our course of study took us deep into literary thought down through the ages. The iconic minds from the annals of history were far from my ken, even though I was a voracious reader. My book teeth had been cut on a more benevolent menu of Uncle Arthur, Sam Campbell, Ruth Wheeler and Eric B. Hare. This classical stuff was complex. It made my brain tired — gave me journalistic indigestion. I longed for the leeks and garlic of Spotted Boy and the Comanches.

But our wise instructor encouraged us to chew more thoroughly. We circled the wagons, er, chairs during class and talked about what we had read. In those small-group discussions, I found that understanding requires good listening. I had often read with a preconceived notion or foregone conclusion. Here I was confronted with other backgrounds and perspectives. To admit I did not have all the answers was a crucial step in critical thinking — and, remarkably, of faith itself.

We wrapped up our semester with the Bible. I had often before felt spiritual themes were spoon-fed to us — "Here, this is good for you, open up." But here within our circle of chairs we were blessed with a veteran teacher who wisely gave us time to think and pray and write and discuss and ... listen.

Listening: Is there a dearth of it these days? I hear loud and angry voices raised against real or imagined wrongs. I hear them in the media and sometimes even in Sabbath School classes.

It all reminds me of the belligerent crowd pressing its way through torchlit streets to shout down Pilate's last weak words of reason and convict the Prince of Peace.

We would modulate both our voices and our minds if we would but listen before speaking. After all, as William Congreve, early English writer, observed, "He who closes his ears to the views of others shows little confidence in the integrity of his own views."

Driving toward home recently, I was doing my Adventist best to obey the speed limit when I noticed a pickup truck rapidly gaining in my rear view mirror. It was a ghastly vehicle, paint peeling, front bumper canted off to one side. Music blaring, it roared around me and then swerved abruptly back in front, close enough for me to observe two ironic bumper stickers. One said: "In Guns We Trust;" the other: "Honk if you love Jesus."

I resisted the urge to honk. I figured the driver wouldn't really be listening.

1. Excerpted from Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

"This classical stuff was complex. It made my brain tired — gave me journalistic indigestion. I longed for the leeks and garlic of Spotted Boy and the Comanches."