When I was in high school I had the opportunity to hear Robert Frost give a poetry reading of some of his works at Hunter College. I was taken with this charming white-haired man and the warmth he gave to his presentation. The following is the poem which left its deepest impression on me:
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
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.
I used to watch my mother type the monthly statements for her customers who had a “house charge” with her little store. It fascinated me how she could type out these documents without looking at the keyboard. I wanted to learn how to type – and mom encouraged me to learn.
One day she came home with a large book that taught typing from “A to Z”. it was a lengthy volume with a bright orange cover – and opened vertically rather than on the horizontal in the fashion of most other books. It started with the basics. How to place your fingers on the keyboard and then exercise after exercise – beginning with striking two keys over and over – and then two others. The exercises then expanded to typing three characters – then three others – and after about lesson ten I was typing all the keys on the keyboard and starting to gain some confidence in my abilities.
Mom’s encouragement and this book ultimately enabled me to develop my typing skills to the point where I could type over 120 words a minute with accuracy. Accuracy – that was something that mom stressed.
If she made an error in typing an invoice, that document was quickly removed from her typewriter’s platen and added to the garbage can. She insisted on perfection in her invoices – understanding that her clients expected perfection in their experience in dealing with her – including invoices that were professional and neat in appearance.
Typing evolved. Suddenly you could buy little strips of “correcting tape” to fix mistakes that you had made (although it was always obvious that there was a correction). Then came “White-Out” – an even sloppier way to correct a slip of the finger.
Then someone invented “corassable paper,” where a mistake could be removed with a pencil eraser although the ink on this paper had a tendency to smudge. Then IBM came out with the “Selectric” which was literally able to draw the ink out of the paper and allow the typist to correct the mis-typed character leaving virtually no trace of their error.
And today, we have “The Undo Button” – popular with gamers.
I admit that I have hit “the undo button” on more than one occasion. And I am always mad at myself when I turn to it to fix an error I have made. When I hit the button – I am performing in a sloppy manner – I am performing at less than my capabilities – I am being lazy – knowing that this ally is there should I need it.
And hitting that button bothers me for a more profound and philosophical reason. In real life, there is no undo button. Frost makes that point so very clearly in his poem.
The actions that we take have consequences, “leading on from way to way.” There is no turning back – merely continuing our journey from the place where all our previous choices have led us.
So as we make those choices which affect our lives and those whose lives we touch, we need to think carefully before we act – and give up this notion that if we have chosen unwisely we can just hit “The Undo Button.” It doesn’t really exist.