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Which road are you taking?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

At the risk of botching a lovely poem by Robert Frost, I’m talking about the forks in the road, the decision points we reach in our lives. I’m not talking about the trivial and insignificant decisions such as “paper or plastic” at the grocery store. No, let’s explore the profoundly meaningful decisions we make.

My wife, Peggy, and I had the opportunity for a two-day weekend respite in a nearby bucolic community. Following our usual routine, we left the hotel for an early morning run in a rustic park setting with winding paths ideal for an invigorating start to our day. We felt safe, we felt comfortable, and it was one of those magical moments that we all savor.

The gray misty gloom of winter was passing, and the air held a hint of rebirth, of spring. Should we run right or left, that was the big decision for the day. We turned to the right and came upon a retired couple also enjoying a morning outing. They seemed polite and approachable, and we asked for directions.

They were natives of the area, very knowledgeable, and shared with us some options. They were curious about where we were from and what we did, and that opened an intriguing narrative about our medical backgrounds. He had been the president of a major healthcare system and a prominent surgeon in the community.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries and parted ways. Our run was a large loop, so on the way back, we again met our “guides.”

I noticed that the gentleman walked with a noticeable limp and used a cane for what seemed to be mildly uncomfortable right knee pain. I gingerly said that I hope this was nothing serious and he shared with me his story. He was an avid biker, a serious student of the sport, very much aware of risks. One day, in a heartbeat, everything changed.

On a route which I suspect he had taken on many occasions he purposefully was on the shoulder of the road, as far away to the right from traffic as possible. Yet he was hit from behind by a vehicle and thrown onto the roadway. A woman driver alertly diverted traffic, called the emergency services, and the gentleman was taken to the local hospital.

A consequence of the collision was a serious right knee injury, which required a total knee replacement. We read about these sorts of traffic injuries all the time and then quickly turn to the sports page or to the business section of the local paper. But this encounter was different. The injured bicyclist shared some wishful nostalgia about the need for surgery with the expectation that life would get back to normal, and this is a very reasonable expectation.

But there is another dimension of this chance encounter we need to understand.

If Peggy and I had taken the other fork in the road, our run would have been much different. If we had simply jogged along the Mississippi River like thousands of other runners that day, we would not have met the local couple and heard their story—or shared ours. We all need to connect with others, share social space, a road to travel down together for a moment in time. That road. The one that made the difference that chilly spring day.

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