THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED BY
For those of us who had the good fortune to have our High School English teachers expose us to the poetry of Robert Frost, his words come back to us in later life with so much more meaning. In 1920, Robert Frost was age 46 when he wrote his poem, The Road Not Taken. His final stanza is perhaps the more familiar:
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.
In high school, one is not well equipped to relate to explorations based on retrospective reflection. I recall at the time a sense of ambivalence with Frost’s reference to “. . . telling this with a sigh” combined with his chosen title, The Road Not Taken. Was this perhaps an indication of regret? In high school a question occurred to me whether Frost was suggesting caution in deviating from the more common norm. That was likely a reflection of the influences that reinforced conformity in the New York City of the 1950’s. But not surprisingly, as I have made the long journey into ages hence, I have a fuller appreciation of what Frost was suggesting.
There are sometimes elements of awareness that become apparent in what seems like a moment of epiphany. And then there seem to be others that germinate over time and become more slowly refined and redefined. In the course of musing over the extent to which I have a distinct sense of calm comfort walking these ancient streets in Ascoli Piceno, I have come to realize I have made an older person’s transition. Typical of a younger person with so much of life yet to unfold, my focus in youth was on the future and how best to prepare myself for it. But now, in a much later phase of my life, focus has shifted to one more centered on reflection.
The emphasis for me now is to make the most of each present moment. Later in life, contemplations on what the future holds become less enticing. In many respects, making the most out of the moment can be enhanced through a better understanding of what has been learned in the course of the life already lived. But in that process, I have come to better appreciate the admonition to be gentle with yourself! Life cannot be lived without making mistakes. Honestly facing the reality of having made any number of mistakes in a life already lived can be painful. The art seems to be to not become mired in regret but to reflect on what was learned in the process and to take whatever satisfaction is available in celebrating having moved on to a better place.
I mentioned earlier being unclear in high school as to whether Frost was expressing, with a sigh, any sense of regret for the road chosen. Now, in the stage of life I am in, I doubt very seriously that he was. These days, I find myself expressing sighs as I look back on any number of junctions in my life where a path was either chosen, or more often happened into, that made significant differences. I believe my sighs are expressions of wonder at how what seemed at the time to be relatively insignificant occurrences, subsequently resulted in significant consequences.
Other people have obviously had this same experience in reflecting on the significant later impact of seemingly less significant earlier events. The terms fate or destiny seem to get thrown about in some attempt to impose a logic or purpose on what appear to have been random occurrences. Finding comfort in a belief some external force is guiding our destiny fuels astrology and other attempts to rationalize randomness. But, I have come to believe there is far less to be gained in attempting to understand the very complex factors influencing why a particular crossroad occurred in life at a particularly significant time. I am now convinced the operative issue in dealing with what arises is less why they happened when they did but far more, what you actually decided to do about them!
Somehow, in the course of living, I have found it necessary to change direction and start down another path without having full confidence in what the outcome might be. And when isn’t that the case? Perhaps at root, some level of discontent has to be present to suggest that the risk of the unknown is offset by less than optimal conditions in the status quo. Perhaps in the course of living, any of us who have made any number of ‘leaps of faith,’ may have learned something that alters how we go about a risk-benefit analysis.
The process of making some level of success in going down an unknown path seems to be strongly influenced by the degree of commitment one has to see the process through. Tentativeness in proceeding forward is not generally rewarding. But commitment and recklessness are two different things. Perhaps in the course of life, analytic assessment tools can be acquired to help mitigate the inevitable hazards in the road ahead.
In the first stanza of Frost’s poem, he highlighted the experience we so often have; there are limitations on how far ahead we can perceive where a given path choice before us may lead:
. . .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;
So much of the time at junction points, we find ourselves in situations not unlike attempting to navigate in very dark places assisted only by a flashlight. The only thing that seems reliable is that which appears in the limited beam illuminating the space just ahead of us. Beyond that, the path is often obscured. But as we move forward, so does the illumination on what is ahead. It seems so much of what we do are small steps into areas where we have ambivalence about the unknown and yet are willing to continue further ahead because the path already travelled successfully, has held promise.
Both our Italian and American friends have asked us, “What brought us to Ascoli Piceno, Italy to live?” We have been over that question any number of times in our own minds and have shared some of the musings on the subject in this Blog. But at some point we found ourselves following a path that seemed to reach a junction of divergence. There was the well-travelled path somewhat like the status quo in which we had lived and there also came into our awareness another path that generated visions of becoming more immersed in the stimulating experiences we had enjoyed in previous travelling. But it is a very different matter travelling on vacation while having the security of knowing there is a familiar life pattern to retreat to as opposed to actually plunging into adopting the mantle of a ‘resident foreigner’ in another land. And in our case, being not one but two travelers, we lingered at that intersection for some time. This had to be a joint undertaking. Becoming two Expatriates in Italy was not an impetuous undertaking.
In due course, we committed to the vision, sold our home, cars and many items that one is encouraged to acquire in a market-centered economy. But we also decided to have a ‘just in case stash’ of personal items in a self-storage unit. Additionally, we had only experienced short duration, furnished apartment rental exposure in foreign travelling. As a result, we did not have a reliable basis to anticipate what actually becoming residents in an Italian town was going to entail and what, if any, of our residual ‘stuff’ would fit into the new experience.
We are now coming up on the three-year anniversary of having arrived in Ascoli Piceno to live. Over recent time, we have come to another decision junction. While we make no pretense of having adequately integrated ourselves into Italian life, we like to think we have made progress. And we are eternally grateful for the encouragement we are getting from our very kind and generous Italian friends. As a result, we have made progress in feeling more comfortable and secure.
Additionally, over the past year, we have had interface with the Italian Health Care system on some of the typical necessities for monitoring that are anticipated in our stage of life. We are delighted with our primary care physician. She is warm and personable and very thorough. She spends whatever time is necessary with us and is not meeting any imposed ‘patient through-put quotas.’ There are no insurance forms to be filled out and no prior insurance company approvals before diagnostic tests are ordered. And we make no co-payment.
It turns out, Italy ranks number 2 in Positive Health Outcomes in the World as assessed by the World Health Organization. The U.S. ranks something like 36th or 37th while spending the highest cost per capita for health care in the world. Therefore, living in the U.S. at a time of our life anticipating increased health care requirements, does not appear promising to us. And most significantly, there is the higher quality of life we now feel we are living while simultaneously having a lower negative impact on our retirement financial resources. When it comes to costs, are we being careful? Of course we are but we are doing it without having a feeling of sacrifice we think we would feel if still living in the U.S. Could someone else spend more money in Italy than we do? Of course again. But we are feeling very fulfilled so what would the point be for us to be doing it?
In a couple of weeks, we will fly back to the U.S. to visit family and friends and handle some logistics. We are also going back to empty out that storage unit and ship our remaining things back to Ascoli. It makes sense to do it but we also realize there is an emotional component operating here. We are eliminating the ‘just in case stash.’ There is a finality in doing that which has not escaped us. But we are ready to do it. When some of our familiar items arrive here, our comfortable rental apartment will feel even more like home.
On our last trip back to the U.S. a year-and-a-half ago, we brought back a wood cut-replicated print of the Samuel Clements free verse poem, Our House. It hung in our last two homes in southern California. And perhaps by early Fall, the Clements poem will be joined by more of our familiar furnishings. Home is, after all, where we are and where we perceive home to be.
So, we are once again at a divergent path choice. Only this time, we can see further down this path and it still remains a stimulating road less travelled by.