“Take the road less traveled, my son. Always. No exceptions.”
Sounds like the start of a fairy tale, or some sort of fable. Kind of like the ones they read to us in school. But it’s really Mama’s playful way of talking fancy. It’s just her way of reminding me about her golden rule. Her law. And though they’re words that Mama can’t claim as her own, “They do,” as she always tells me, “reveal a higher truth about what it takes to live a more meaningful and transcendent life.”
“Most importantly,” Mama is quick to add, “the Road Less Traveled is the true way, and will best keep a child away from harm and danger.”
All this elegant talk beats Mama just saying, “Boy, just do as I say. Take the long way home. Never take the shortcut.”
But taking the Road Less Traveled makes life a little more difficult. It means getting off the bus a stop early or riding in the last car of the train and walking out the station’s back exit. Both put me about four long blocks further from my home. A real pain. Mama doesn’t care.
Perhaps that’s because the path she prefers I take seems almost too good to be true. There are nice brownstone homes set along quiet, tree-lined streets. You pass my school and its peaceful playground. You never see any children playing there. Nor do you ever see a Mr. Lonely—that’s a man with no family, no friends, no home—sleeping on one of the park’s benches. There are a lot of churches along this path, too. Some are small storefront churches. Some are big and look like cathedrals, like the one Mama and I go to. Mama says, “Walk this way home and you’ll know that God is in this place. You’ll see all that you need to feel good about life—a nice home, a school nearby to enrich your mind, and an altar to worship at.” Most importantly, Mama says, “There’s peace and there’s quiet along this path, so you can listen to God talk to you.”
But The City is a kind of funny place. You can walk a few blocks and feel like you found a little piece of heaven. Yet, turn a corner and watch out! You’re surrounded by…madness! That’s what Mama calls the world outside the peace and quiet of the Road Less Traveled. She calls it… The Madness.
It’s kind of hard to tell where the Road Less Traveled ends and The Madness begins, and vice-versa. The circular path of the Road Less Traveled flows into The Madness at opposite ends of a simple two-block cluster of small storefront businesses. Businesses like Chef and his Golden Sun take-out spot, and Injun Rah’s pizza joint. The Madness is where you’ll find brothers and sisters from the Dark Continent selling traditional garb at their fashion boutique. And not long ago, The Madness was where you’d find my grandpa’s old candy shop. A sort of general store. I can’t tell you much more, because I’m not allowed to go there. It’s an old, battered corner store. It sits across the street from what had been, at one time, an old gangsta social club called Illusions. Illusions’ window used to be black with its name written in script and in dripping blood red paint. But now it’s a nail salon with a windowpane that is large and clear, so that when you look inside, you see a group of lady manicurists from the Far East at work. The Madness is the world. It’s a place where you can find anything and everything you want. I think that is good.
But Mama says, “No, no, not so fast. Don’t be fooled by those profiting amid The Madness.” According to her, there’s no nobility in always giving people what they want. “Drug dealers give people what they want. Does that make them noble?” That’s Mama talking. I’m just a kid.
“Stay away from The Madness. Take the Road Less Traveled, my son. Always. No exceptions.” Mine is the story of a little boy who doesn’t always listen to his mama.