I’d like to re-classify my professional role.
I don’t like the stereotypes that surface.
I think of a nun slapping wrists with a ruler, or a stuffy principal speaking in measured monotone: “Now Billy, that’s not the way we act in this school, young man.”
The more I venture away from teaching in a traditional sense, the more I can get across to my students. The young brain is hard-wired to deem anything traditional as full of shit.
My goal is to show them something, something they see everyday, something they take for granted. I have them pick it up, turn it around, and learn that it is multi-dimensional. I inform them there is an underside to every stone in the hope that they will turn over more stones after taking my class.
One of my favorite stone-turners is Robert Frost. Frost is often misrepresented. Take his iconic, “The Road Not Taken”.
The entirety of the poem hinges on the interpretation of one four-letter word: sigh.
Stay with me on this, pretend you’re not one of my students.
The last stanza:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in the woods and I—
I took the road less travelled by
and that has made all the difference.”
The road less travelled has become the turn of phrase to imply a life lived outside of the box; and a life lived satisfactorily. Scott Peck turned it into a best-selling work of non-fiction. Peck’s book asserts that fulfilment is attained by those who take the uncommon path.
But I don’t believe that was Frost’s intention.
Frost wrote that the road less travelled made all the difference. In math the term difference is the value between two numbers. A difference can be a positive or negative number; it has no inherent value.
It all comes down to the sigh. Is it a sigh of satisfaction?—the kind you unleash at the end of a hard day’s work? Or is it a sigh of distress?—the kind you utter subconsciously when you sit down and have nothing better to do than open Facebook.
I like to show this to my students because they use expressions, such as “Y-O-L-O” coined by Drake, meaning “You Only Live Once” Without knowing that before Drake was Henry David Thoreau who went to the woods for 2 years in order to, “Suck out all the marrow of life” (Walden) or “seize the day.”
I like it because anything taken at face value is not worth a damn, and our present culture swims in the surface of things. Yes, I liken our American culture to grown-ups splashing water at each other in the kiddie pool. Just look at our presidential debates.
Frost’s life was plagued with turmoil and turbulence. His tombstone epitaph reads: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
Whether or not Frost was content with his life, the poem is remarkably good at summing up all of one’s existence. Your final sigh—will it be in satisfaction or distress?
I find the poem a cautionary one. In it, Frost writes that “way leads on to way” which tells the reader that however you are sighing today, is likely how you will be sighing tomorrow. If you can make today well-lived, tomorrow will take care of itself. Shit. Y-O-L-O.
So the real question becomes not how you will sigh in your final days, but how are you sighing right now, in this moment?