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.
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.
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.
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.
~Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken“, from Mountain Interval
“It is this acquiescence of the Muslim spirit to the immutability of the past – the recognition that whatever has happened had to happen in this particular way and could have happened in no other – that is so often mistaken by Westerners for a fatalism inherent in the Islamic outlook. But a Muslims acquiescence to fate relates to the past and not to the future: it is not a refusal to act, to hope and to improve, but a refusal to consider past reality as anything but an act of God.”
~ Muhammad Asad, The Road to Mecca
The above poem was one of my favorites in high school and still is even till this very today. When I first encountered it some years prior, I imagined Frost, who I pictured as an elderly, pensive White man with greying hair and with a wooden pipe in his hand (I don’t know if Frost actually smoked but I always envisaged him doing so), strolling through a wooded glen, thinking to himself about the various happenstances in his life, when, seemingly out of nowhere, he chances upon divergent paths along the trail. He stops, and after deliberating in the manner as only a supreme poet and master of the arrays of human experience could, Frost, in my mind, makes a decision and takes the path he deems fairer, the one less traveled, though, in reality, both are equally fair. And years down the line, as he recounts his tale of the divergent paths and of his decision to whomever will listen to him, he says that the path he had taken – the one less traveled – had made all the difference for him.
But I always wondered, if both paths were just as fair at the end of the day, would the one path really have made such a difference in the end? Is his recounting in the future about his past decision not a vain effort, since, as he even admits, “Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same?”
I’ll not go the way of literary critics and dissect the poem word for word as that’s really not my forte; but, I couldn’t help to recall Frost’s immortal words as I ponder over my life situation, of being alone in a yellow wood, of coming across a fork in the the road and of having to decide which path to take. And I also bore in mind the words of Muhammad Asad, the Austrian Jewish convert to Islam and a personal hero of mine, about meandering through the immutable past and traversing into the unknown future: it does little good to pose “What Ifs” upon those things for which Time has already uncovered, for those affairs have already been settled in eternity and heaven; perhaps, this is ultimately what Frost was trying to convey in his poem: though it might appear an alternate route would have lead to a different result, the greater truth is both paths were really about the same, and thus might not have made that much a difference in the long run. Far better, then, is the assertive grasp of what’s to come, of what hasn’t been revealed, as Asad speaks about, but realizing, as Frost does, the “knowing how way leads on to way,” the repercussions of the choices you make, for the past is a portion of the present.
(Of course, I could be entirely wrong in my analysis. It wouldn’t be the first time, and insha’Allah, it won’t be the last either. :D)
I’ve decided to put my career as an engineer behind me and pursue one in teaching and the social sciences, as a scholar of history and society, insha’Allah, something where I can write and educate simultaneously, since it seems I have a knack for both these things. I know I’ll make less money going this route, but I don’t really care: it’s more so about the intrinsic motivation than anything else.I figured, with my penchant for letters and ideas and with my personal heroes being scholars in this field – such as Ibn Khaldun, Arnold Toynbee, Dr. Jackson to some degree and others, and now Marshal Hodges – such a decision was quite natural: in fact, I feel I should have settle on it sooner than I did; but, again from Muhammad Asad’s wonderful autobiography, sometimes the heart is aware of things way before one’s thoughts are:
[Zayd said,] “…Are we letting ourselves be thus blown around by the winds because we do not know what we want?”
[Muhammad Asad replied,] “No, Zayd – thou and I, we allow ourselves to be blown by the winds because we do know what we want: our hearts know it, even if our thoughts are sometimes slow to follow – but in the end they do catch up with our hearts and then we think we have made a decision…”
I had been flirted with the idea of going to Egypt to study Arabic over the past couple of months, but I’ve decided not to go, at least not for studies: I can’t shake the feeling that my place just isn’t there. I think the pursuit of scholarly religious knowledge is better left for others as my heart isn’t in it; I fear for me it would just be a mere intellectual endeavor. Given my background, I feel I can serve Muslims and people in general more in the manner of a writer and an educator than a religious scholar.
In these months of unemployment, especially during Ramadan, I’ve had much time to contemplate about my lot in life, as Allah is reported to have told the Prophet, “Revile not destiny – for behold – I am destiny.” I realize I’ve done an injustice to myself and to some my Muslim friends in my cynicism and pessimism over race and class issues in the community among other things, though, to me, my grieves are nonetheless legitimate. Perhaps all that has happened to me thus far – both the positive and negative – has brought me to this point: the point where my Lord wanted me to be all along.
In any case, I’m applying to doctoral programs for the Fall of next year, mostly in metropolitan, cosmopolitan cities where I can find good Capoeira groups 😀 and where I wouldn’t mind living for a few years. In the meantime, I’ll take residence back in Atlanta and try to work for AmeriCorp or something until Fall comes around. With my mother being dead and father being God knows where (not to mention unreliable), my living situation is made complicated because I no longer have a base for which to return, but al-hamdu’ilah, I’ve saved quite a bit of money, so I should alright for a bit. I’ll play the role of an itinerant once more, but this doesn’t bother me, for “…if water stands motionless in pools, it becomes stale, muddy and foul; only when it moves and flows does it remain clear…”
I can’t peer down the path to know what lies ahead, as the keys to the future are with God. Perhaps, as with the elderly Frost, somewhere ages hence down the line, I’ll look back on these days with a heavy sigh as well. But, the words that will grace my lips will be these: “Revile not destiny, for behold – I am destiny. And may the water run until it becomes clear…”
I’ve decided not to do social sciences after all and to instead go into medical physics, insha’Allah. Flaky is my nature, my tragic flaw. Not really, and I’ll explain why. 😀
This whole time I had been debating two paths, social sciences or medical physics, teacher or healer. After researching career opportunities in the social sciences (reading forums, asking around, etc), I decided not to go into the social sciences but to instead pursue it as a hobby or a past time, and as such, I can still write and whatnot on the topic if I want to. As for the sudden entrance of medical physics into the fray, I had actually been thinking about it since my mother contracted cancer back in the summer of last year. I would sit in the waiting of the radiation therapy building and think to myself,”Perhaps I should take on this topic.” My training as a nuclear engineering would the transition near seamless, given the coursework I’ve already done. Moreover, while the money is very good, the intrinsic satisfaction of helping cancer patients fares better with me than the cubicle work of an engineer (though not all engineers are engaged in menial cubicle work). Medical physics provides an interesting cross-section.
But as I said earlier, “And may the water run until it becomes clear.” I’ll keep searching until a find something that both suits my intellectual fancies as well as my drive to be of some service to people; and it wouldn’t help if the pay was good too: I am, after all, from a poor family and I do have to think about these things if I’m to raise a family of my own someday. Therefore, don’t judge me too harshly.
All and all though, as a final thought, perhaps, even despite all this meandering through the uncertain and unforeseeable future and my own tragic flakiness, I’m glad, al-hamdu’ilah, that I’m going through this stage of deliberation in my life and I’m glad that I took the time I did out from school both to “find myself” and to find the things I want out of life. Had I gone straight through school, I’m quite convinced I would not have had the time and the mental and spiritual energy needed to do so, since school – that difficult taskmaster with its incessant, merciless demands – requires so much one’s body, mind, and spirit.
…whatever road I take, wherever I may roam, may God ease my way, purify my heart and intentions, and may He draw me closer unto Himself in the process…