The road less traveled
In the early 1980s I came upon a book by M. Scott Peck (1936-2005), an American psychiatrist, whose title intrigued me so much that I delved into it immediately ― I just had to find out what it was all about.
``The Road Less Traveled,” published in 1978, has sold more than 10 million copies. It is a description of the many attributes that make for a fulfilled human being, based largely on Dr. Peck’s experiences as a psychiatrist and a person. This book title reminded me of a poem by the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963), “The Road Not Taken,” whose last stanza ends: ``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.”
During 17 years living in a largely Jewish town in northern New Jersey, I was naturally drawn to the subject of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in which Nazi Germany managed to kill some 6 million Jews. I sought out many books dealing with this subject and one of the most rewarding aspect of that pursuit was learning about the ``righteous Gentiles” who took the road less traveled.
One of them was a young Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1947). He is now remembered for his humanitarian efforts rescuing thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary while serving as a Swedish diplomat. Between July and December 1944 Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory saving tens of thousands of lives. Ultimately he died under questionable circumstances that seem to derive from his heroic efforts in taking the road not taken by many people.
Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) is another good example as a sojourner on this less traveled road. A Dutch Christian, she and her father and other family members helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. Her family was arrested because of an informant in 1944, and her father died ten days later in prison. A sister, brother and nephew were released but Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where only Corrie survived. Corrie ten Boom wrote many books and aided Holocaust survivors.
Her autobiography, ``The Hiding Place” (1971), about her experience of rescuing Jews in Holland, is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. I continuously asked myself while reading it, ``Would I be able to do what Corrie ten Boom did if I were put in the same situation?”
One Korean from our history comes to my mind as a good example as one who also chose to travel on the road less traveled. Jeong Mong-ju (1337-1392) was a civil minister and scholar during the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). After Yi Seong-gye revolted against the Goryeo Dynasty in order to found the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Jeong Mong-ju was murdered by Yi Seong-gye’s fifth son Yi Bang-won (later King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty) because he refused to collaborate with them in the coup and persisted in his loyalty to the Goryeo dynasty.
Jeong Mong-ju’s poem of loyalty has been taught at Korean schools as inspiration for faithfulness. Even now when I recite it I get a lump in my throat.
Though I die and die again a hundred times,
That my bones turn to dust, whether my soul remains or not,
Ever loyal to my Lord, how can this red heart ever fade away?
One of our cousins was leading a comfortable life teaching at a prominent university as a tenured professor of psychology. He always had a deep longing to paint full-time. Even knowing that if he followed his heart he would suffer financial insecurity, he chose what made him happiest. He didn’t want to come to the end of his life filled with regret for not taking the road his heart was beckoning him to follow.
On a personal level, I too took the road less traveled by marrying a non-Korean in 1970 when doing so brought on many dirty looks, societal disapproval and family disgrace. I am so glad I had the chutzpah to take that road less traveled. Deepest remorse would have followed me all my life if I had taken the easy road.
M. Scott Peck said: ``Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another … The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.”
As 2011 is fading we need to ask ourselves again, ``Is there some fear in me that prevents me from traveling the road less traveled?” I sincerely hope that all of us will have the inner light to lead us on to the right road. May you have the courage to choose the road less traveled when that challenge arises!
Only you will know when that moment is.
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.