The poem “The Road Not Taken” by renowned American poet Robert Frost expresses the gnawing curiosity that a traveler knows he will always have about the road that he didn’t take. Faced with a choice, he took one over the other, and felt that made all the difference as to how his life played out.
We studied this poem in school, and those of us who appreciated a well-turned phrase enjoyed the poem – but its message went pretty much over our heads. At that time in our lives, our choices were rather minor; for example, what snack to eat when we got home. We were still passengers in our parents’ journey, and their choices were automatically ours.
But all too soon the message of the poem resonated, as we became adults and had to make what we thought were life-altering choices that would affect our future. We had to decide whether to go to seminary/yeshiva, or to college or work. When offered shidduchim,we had to choose whether we would marry this one or that one – or continue searching.
Whatever our choices – no matter how satisfied, successful or accepting we are of the outcome and the actuality of our lives – from time to time we wonder “What if,” “Why did/didn’t I,” “If only” etc.
This is particularly true for those who regret their choices, those who spend their waking hours (including their sleepless nights) grieving, those whose conscious moments are burdened with the heavy weight of sorrow, anger, frustration and bitterness, beset with the relentless belief that they were cheated. They go through their days mired in the quicksand of regret, unable to move forward, and bogged down by useless self-recrimination for the choices they ultimately made.
But they needlessly chastise themselves or those who influenced their choices, for the poem’s premise that we had another choice – the road not taken – is not a Torahdik one.
This is because the path a person ultimately finds him/herself on wasn’t chosen;it was the one they were meant to be on – as decreed by Hashem.
Everything is bashert. It is Hashem’s will that decides our fate. It is a will that we must accept – no matter how difficult or unfair we feel our lot is. In this ongoing struggle not to question Hashem’s reasoning, it is hard to accept the sharp thorns that have pierced the peace of mind of so many members of the klal – those beset with illness or infertility, those who are alone and lonely, those who have suffered the loss of loved ones.
But as I get older, I have come to understand that everything is for a reason. Just like you can’t see the forest for the trees, when you get in a helicopter and go high enough you see the whole picture. We are too low on the ground to fully comprehend Hashem’s plan.
With acknowledgment that Hashem is behind the steering wheel of our journey and that the content of the days of our lives are min haShamayim comes sweet relief that we are not to be blamed for our situation – for our individual pekel was tailored for each of us.
We should therefore stop blaming and berating ourselves for the “decisions” we “made.” We are wrongly taking credit for a destiny that we did not create, for that destiny was already determined before we were even born.
Once you can accept that it is not your fault or the fault of your parents/friend/teacher/neighbor – that they were just agents of Hashem’s will – you can begin to move forward.
For those burdened with guilt because they believe they messed up their life or that of their child, spouse, friend, etc., you are taking credit for something that isn’t yours to claim – and thus unfairly burdening yourself with razor-sharp guilt and remorse.
For everything is from Shamayim!
It is normal to feel angry and “robbed,” and it’s okay to spend time rehashing the past, crying and mourning, and validating your feelings of loss. It’s fine to “sit shiva,” as I call it. But then you must get up, bury your regrets in the deep recesses of your mind – and walk away.
Open your eyes to the life-enhancing lessons that are Hashem’s gift to those facing challenges, and try doing a personal tikkun. Focus on tomorrow and the possibility of improving and growing as a person, for you are a valued piece of G-d’s eternal puzzle and a necessary part of His mysterious plan.
One day it will be clear why you were given a particular road on which to journey.
But know you are not totally without choice, for the one aspect of your life that you have control over is whether you live it b’simcha. It is your choice, and your alone to acknowledge the good in your life and accept the rest and to say with true emunah and sincerity, “gam zu l’tovah.