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Last week, I went to the local library in North Miami Beach to relax and read. The quiet atmosphere of the library just seems so conducive to reflection, meditation and reading. I was surprised by the number of young people, middle-aged as well as aged who were there.(Of course, I am neither) Then it dawned on me that the library is a great place to pursue your dreams. And that is what many of the visitors were doing - reading, writing, watching videos and researching.
When I left the library, I had checked out four books to read at home. The most challenging, inspiring and intriguing was The Other Wes Moore written by Road Scholar and a combat veteran of Afghanistan, Wes Moore. The subtitle of the book is "One Name, Two Fates." It is a tense and compelling narrative of two young men from Baltimore, Maryland with the same name, similar history and environment. One grew up to be a Rhode Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for murder.
The book chronicles the events which shaped the lives both young men - both grew up in similar neighborhoods and had very difficult childhoods. Both were fatherless, had hung out on street corners with the unsavory of society and had their share of troubles with the police. At similar crucial junctions in their lives, they both had difficult choices to make. Their decisions let them to very different destinies.
As I read this captivating book, I couldn't help but reflect on the famous poem by Robert Frost:
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.
Yes, the two roads "diverged in a wood" and both young men made their choices. Those choices "made all the difference."
One Wes came to realize that life's impermanence is “what makes every day so precious. It's what shapes our time here. It's what makes it so important that not a single moment is wasted." Although influenced by his negative environment, he learned the power of a dream, the impact of family, the influence of mentors, the challenges of discipline and the value of responsibilities. Wes Moore learned that "no accident of birth - not being black or relatively poor, being from Baltimore or the Bronx or fatherless - would ever define or limit me." He took the road "less travelled by."
Results? He reaped the joys of success.
While there is no one thing that leads a person to move in one direction or the other, the other Wes lost his dream, rebelled against authority and never learned the lessons of self-discipline and the power of choice. Unfortunately, he also lacked those positive molding influences and mentors essential to character development. Consequently, the other Wes took the crowded road.
Indeed, our roots may help to shape our character and the routes we take . Both young men went on their journey and searched for help. One received it; the other didn't. Sometimes a kind word or gracious act can make the difference of failure and success, pain or pleasure, those we admire and those we despise. Reflecting upon the other Wes and the journey of his own life, Wes Moore concludes: "The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine, the tragedy is that my story could have been his."
The parallels of these two lives and the consequences of their decisions drive home a central truth of life echoed in the words of Samuel Beckett: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." We do well to remember that failure need not be final. So we should reach out to the fallen and give a helping hand, a word of guidance and a voice of hope. In the end, the legacies we leave will be determined by the choices we make today.
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In the light of recent racial/cultural discussions stemming from the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I think this is a timely book for anyone who wants to understand the plight of young men in the inner cities. Get your copy here.
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PS. "Choose you this day whom you will serve..." Joshua 24:15