Opinion: Finding Meaning

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The Road Not Taken

The last Finding Meaning column, “Groundhog Day,” explored the process and product of perfecting a single day, inspired by the movie of that name. This column addresses the theses and antitheses of Groundhog Day and the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Let me explain.

In “Groundhog Day,” Phil Connors is deeply drawn to a woman he lacks the ability to love. She represents a goodness that attracts, but his instincts lead to acts offensive to her values. He senses this, but blind to a better idea, he doubles down on bad behavior. It’s an impasse, one we all experience, though we may not recognize it. Have you ever noticed in others a loyalty to beliefs that lead to self-destructive decisions? It’s often visible in others, harder to detect in ourselves.

The benefit of Connors’ endless repetition of a single day is that by chance, contrary to his nature and perhaps through sheer boredom, he makes a decision for good and experiences a better outcome. Through repeated cycles of that day, he explores and embraces goodness and a new nature slowly emerges. Focus on self gives way to focus on others, especially those in need.

The poet Robert Frost, whose birthday is coming up, wrote his best-known poem on the same subject, how we make decisions. “The Road Not Taken,” tells of “two roads that diverged in a yellow wood.” There’s no sign giving direction, he has to choose. The closing line resonates with people and our desire to see ourselves as unique: “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” But it’s a tricky poem because he had just said the two paths really were the same: “Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same.” Uniqueness isn’t that easy.

The poem introduces a second theme, that though we believe we’ll someday explore the other path, we probably won’t: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” There it is, a parallel universe of paths we consider but don’t take, for better or for worse.

The movie has a second theme too. Do you remember the old man begging on the street Connors encounters that night, dying? The movie is ambiguous, does Connors save the man or not? Some things can’t be fixed in one day. All we know is the old man didn’t die alone, with no one to care as he passed.

Connors is dealing with the people of a small town whom he comes to love. Frost describes a place in nature, a walk in “a yellow wood,” that we might have also loved. Frost can never know what he missed, Connors does know, he’s stuck in Punxsutawney. So, antitheses, yet in the end, shared theses—that there is an unseen world of possible experiences, that there is good and evil, that uniqueness is difficult, and that our decisions matter. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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