The Less-trodden Way
There once was a young man who came upon a fork in the trail upon which he was traveling. He had been told by his father to take the trail which leads to the left to get to his destination, but there at the fork was a sign showing that the trail to the right was the one which led to the place to which he was travelling.
He scratched his head, looked at the two trails, and then noticed that the one to the left was grown over with vegetation from lack of use, but that the trail to the right was a well trodden one. He sat down to contemplate his plight and to eat a sack lunch that he had brought along when another traveler came from the fork to the right. He asked him from where he’d come, and the man told him the exact name of the place to which he himself was travelling. This served to only double the young man’s doubts in the directions that his father had given him.
After finishing his lunch, the young man again picked up his walking stick and proceeded. He walked up to the sign with the arrow pointing to the right and toward his destination and he then walked past it… to the left of it and continued on in the direction his father had instructed him. The trail was very narrow and rocky. It was grown over with weeds and bushes. Tree limbs hung low over the trail, and it wandered up and down the steep hills that were abundant in that land. Many a time the young man wondered, “Is this the right way?” or, “Why didn’t my father give me more information than he did?” or even, “Should I keep going or should I turn back?”
The questions filled the young man with disgust at his situation and he soon began to allow worry to cloud his mind. He began to wish that he’d not listened to his father and instead had taken the easy, well marked way that he knew led to journey’s end. He broke through some bushes that had overgrown his trail only to find himself at the foot of a collapsed bridge that used to span the raging river that was now before him. “Great!” he exclaimed, “What else is to befall me upon this ill-conceived and treacherous journey? Am I to now drown in this river as I attempt to forge it?” He thought to himself that he must nearly be there… if his father was right and all evidence that seemed to contradict his father was wrong. So… he continued on. He figured, “I’ve come this far. I might as well see it through to the end.”
As daylight was nearly spent, the young man began to see lights in the distance. He quickened his pace in hopes that this was it - that this was his destination. He reached the source of the lights, and it was that which he had been seeking. He was there at long last! As he approached the outskirts of the village, he noticed a trail that cut back sharply to the right of him, and there at the fork where it joined the trail that he was on was a sign post with a sign and an arrow pointing that way. Above the arrow was the name of his home town and down the trail were people coming and going.
He stopped one of the people and asked him if indeed that trail led to his home town. The person confirmed that it did indeed do so and then went on to ask the young man, who was worn ragged from his full day’s struggle upon the less-traveled trail, if he had just come from there, pointing back up the trail that the young man had just conquered. The young man said, “Why yes, I did,” to which his acquaintance snickered, “Why on Earth would you take that trail? No one takes that trail anymore!”
The person then walked away shaking his head, laughing, and pointing back at the lad to everyone with whom he was travelling. The young man lowered his head and entered the town looking for lodging for the night, as it was too late to attend to that for which he had journeyed. He found lodging, slept, and awoke the next morning to attend his business there. He then prepared for the journey home. He was determined to take the short cut this time, for he had heard that it would cut his travel time by more than half, if not considerably more than that. No one knew for sure for no one ever took the old trail anymore, so no one knew how long it would take to go that way - no one, that is, but our adventurous young lad.
As he began to head out of town and toward the fork in the trail and very inebriated man came toward him from the well-trodden way and asked him for some money. The young man asked the man if he were okay to which the man replied, “Yeah, I just (hiccup) stopped at a pub along the way and lost all my money in a game of chance. Could you (hiccup) spare a penny or two?” The lad wished the drunken man well but told him that he had no money to spare. He then quickly made his way up the trail toward the short cut and his home.
As he neared the fork in the trail, another man came toward him. This man was bruised and battered. One of his eyes was swollen shut and his clothes were torn and dirty. The young man gasped, “Oh my! What happened to you?”
“Ah nothin’,” the man replied. “I just got caught lying with another man’s wife. He didn’t take too kindly to it. Oh well, sometimes you gotta pay if you’re gonna play. Know what I mean?” Then the bloodied man said as he walked on past, “I’d stay clear of that big, fancy green and white house on the right about a mile back up the trail if I were you. She’s a flirtatious young thing, and he’s the old cantankerous sort… and he’s a might stirred up right now.”
The lad replied, “I will. Hope you’re okay.” He then proceeded up the trail thinking about the two unfortunate souls he’d just passed. As he rounded the first bend in the trail, he came upon another man leading a donkey down the trail. Upon the donkey’s back was a body. It was covered with linen and securely tied in place. “What happened?” the boy queried in a concerned voice.
“My brother was killed by robbers along the trail. He was beaten and murdered for a day’s wage and some food, for that’s all he had. He’d been working and travelling this trail for some time now. I guess those lawless men that did this to him had been watching him and figured he must carry a lot of cash, but he never did for just that reason. Beware, young man. Beware!” The man then led his donkey away calling out his brother’s name and sobbing loudly.
Our young traveler just stood there watching the poor, brotherless man lead his donkey down the path. He didn’t know what to think or do. He’d spent the entire day on the less-traveled trail yesterday and not met a soul. He’d barely gone a hundred yards on this, the well-trodden way, and already he’d seen three men who’d suffered some calamity or another. He wondered, “Could this be why my father steered me to take the trail to the left at the fork on my journey - to avoid such as these three had encountered?”
All three men suffered the consequences of their own actions. “If you’re gonna play, you gotta be willing to pay.” Sure, the first two men were players, and they suffered the fate that “playing” brings, but what about the third man - the one whose body lay upon the donkey? What’d he do to deserve his fate? Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to take a short cut. Sometimes things just happen, and we don’t know why, but ultimately we are where we are because of the choices that we have made. What if the young man had chosen to ignore his father’s directions and had taken the trail to the right at the beginning of this tale? Where do you suppose he would be?
What would have happened had his father given him more information about the well-trodden way? Suppose he had told his son that it was dangerous, but… that it would also cut his travel time in half? Would the son have taken the less-traveled trail and learned a valuable lesson, or would he have taken the well-traveled trail only to emerge on the back of a donkey? I don’t know. I don’t know why God has steered us down the trails that we are now on. All I do know is that all trails lead to the same place - to Him. The only question is, “Are we now going to insist that everyone take our trail - that all travel the less-traveled trail, and if so, what then shall we call this trail - this less-traveled trail upon which all are traveling?”
Are we to go backwards now? Are we to reverse our steps and remain forever on this… less-traveled trail? Are we to ignore the warnings of the men who have traveled the trail before us? Are we to heed them and stay securely in our villages, never to venture upon the trails at all? What are we to do? But that we could ask our father’s advice on this. But that we all had fathers to guide us and steer us from troubles or to help when troubles do befall us. But that the well-worn trail was full of travelers, each in constant commune with his father! Funny… but I think that that is exactly why we went down the trails that we went down. I think that this is exactly what God is trying to teach us - that we do have a Father and we can have constant commune with Him. It is possible. It is offered. All we have to do… is accept it. Amen.