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A Fork in the Road

A Fork in the Road

by William H. Benson

September 24, 2015

     Yogi Berra played catcher for the New York Yankees for nineteen years, from 1946 until 1965. Noted for his funny expressions, such as, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over,” and “I didn’t say everything I said,” his most quoted malapropism is the gem, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi said that when he was giving directions to his house during a conversation he had with Joe Garagiola. Yogi meant that from that fork in the road, either way led to his house, but his words came out funny.

     Robert Frost wrote a poem about the day when he too came upon a fork in the road. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry that I could not travel both.” He ended the poem. “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

     Frost’s poem carried over into the comics. Beginning in the August 2009 edition, number 600, of the “Archie Comics” series, Archie Andrews sees himself in a yellow wood staring at two roads, or two futures, while images of his two high school sweethearts hover over each road. He wonders what his life will become if he marries Veronica Lodge, the spoiled rich brunette, or if he marries Betty Cooper, the sweet blond next door.

     First, he dreams of a life married to Veronica, working for her tycoon father, and raising their fraternal twins. Then, he dreams of a life married to Betty. He wakes up and asks both girls out for a date for that Saturday night, and when they discover his duplicity, they dump milkshakes on his head.

     Michael Uslan, the author of those particular “Archie Comics,” explained. “The story arc is all about choices and consequences. These choices don’t impact just the people getting married. They have a butterfly effect and alter the lives of friends and family as well.”

     The butterfly effect is when small events that happen in distant places can influence events around the globe. “The flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South America could affect the weather in Texas. The tiniest influence on one part of a system can have a huge effect on another part.”  

     When working towards a decision, people often feel wistful. Robert Frost stared at those two roads and said that he was “sorry that I could not travel both.” Then, once a person makes a choice, regrets can appear if he or she chose too quickly or not quick enough, or he or she can feel pleased with the choice. Robert Frost must have felt pleased because he said, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

     Which way do we go? Cupid’s line dance song, the Cupid Shuffle, offers little help. “Now walking by yourself. To the left. To the left. To the right. To the right!”

     The Monte Carlo simulation is a method used in finance, sports, games, and even politics to determine outcomes that are dependent upon a list of assumptions and variables.

     For example, LeBron James asked the question, “Which is better when you are down by three with three seconds to go— shoot a hard three and go into overtime, or take an easy two and hope to steal the ball on the inbound pass?” Computer wizards can run hundreds of simulations based upon his and his teammates’ two and three-point shooting percentages, their abilities to rebound the ball, as well as their opponents’ skills. The computer then generates the better answer for each change in each variable.

     Without all of that, I would give the ball to LeBron James and tell him to shoot and win the game.

     The middle of the road is a hard road. It requires focus to avoid the extreme views that appear on either side. A drive into the ditch can lead to excitement, but there is more risk in the ditch. The middle of the road requires that a person focus and judge which road is the correct one for him or her.

     The American voters will make a series of crucial decisions soon. In sixteen months, we will inaugurate a new president, and then the wistful feelings we may feel when we voted for a candidate will give way to either regrets or to a pleased feeling with the president’s performance.

     Then, there is the four-year civil war in Syria that has caused the Syrian people to flee their country in an exodus bound for Europe. Should we stand and watch while the Syrian government bombs its own people? Should we watch when immigrants desperate for sanctuary are turned away at Europe’s borders? Choices of which road to take are not easy.

     Then, there is the fate of liberal democracy, the government that promotes human values. Last week a writer for the New York Times asked, “Are Western values losing their sway?” Russia, China, and the Middle East have not adopted those values, despite the USA’s many attempts to proselytize them.

     To be human is to choose, and our lives are composed of a series of choices we have made, some good and some not so good.

     One of Yogi Berra’s friends announced, “Hey, Yogi! I think we’re lost.” He replied, “Yeah, but we’re making great time.”