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The Road Not Taken

Written by Holly McKissick
November 11, 2006

Holly McKissick – South Africa

Robert Frost wasn’t thinking about the highway up from the sophisticated city of Durban, South Africa to the black township of Inanda when he penned those words. But, the road cries out for a poem, or maybe better, a prayer.

It is a road that few whites travel on. (For that matter, folks of any color who can afford to avoid it, do so.) Driving along this road, you easily believe the statistic that 40 to 60 percent of the urban labor force lives in shacks in squatter towns. The houses line the road in all directions. They are at once despairing and inspiring. It is beyond my (usually active) imagination to fathom so many people living in homes of mud and tin. Yet, the shacks persist and the people do, too. The majority of their inhabitants get up in the morning and head to work or school, just as we do.

But, first, they emerge clean and neat, without washing machines, and, in some cases without running water.

“Snegugu comes from that clump of houses,” the young teacher, who lives next door to me at Inanda, (and, who has become a friend, driver, and instructor of all things South African), points to the heap. In grade eleven, Snegugu is one of the brightest students at Inanda. “Really?”

I think again about what’s lost to poverty. It’s not just 1 billion people on the planet who “need our help.” It’s one billion people with minds, ideas, thoughts, and poems inside that find no pen and paper for expression. It is one billion people: one or two of whom have the genius to cure AIDS. They are opera singers and ballerinas, soccer players and diplomats who could take the stage, but never will. They will spend their lives gathering splinters of wood to burn for the evening fire.

I think of my dear friend Dr. Cheryl McDonald. (I always introduce her that way because I think she just might find the cure for AIDS in her Ft. Worth office where the community’s HIV patients are carefully, thoughtfully tended.) Cheryl, the mother of two, like me, remarks about we scurry our children from this music lesson to that sport: “it’s so ridiculous, how we (the privileged) so desperate to squeeze every ounce of talent, ability, potential out of our kids...panicked we’ll leave something sure that there is a genius, a prodigy that needs to come out...and, then so many of the world’s kids lack a basic education.”

Balance. Moderation. Generosity. Equality. Justice. Why these qualities have so eluded the human species I cannot say...

But, I do know the roads we travel, or choose not to travel, shape us.

Until we moved to Kansas last August, Ben went to school at 39th and Gillham in Kansas City (just two blocks from Troost). Every morning, we’d pass homeless folks, women and men walking to work, houses broken and falling. And, we’d pass the Plaza, the Nelson Atkins, the renovated mansions. I always thought: this drive is the best education my kids could get.

Now, my kids go to school where you say the word “poor” and the children picture the well-kept apartments across from the school.

From memory, I think Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in the woods...and I, I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”

It would. No doubt, it would.

May God give us the strength to choose paths and roads that challenge and stretch...and eventually transform and redeem. Amen.

You are in my prayers and thoughts,

Holly McKissick has been appointed as a short-term volunteer to Inanda Girls’ Seminary in Durban, South Africa where she is involved in the life of the school community serving in a volunteer teaching capacity and visiting nearby churches on weekends.

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