by Jim Gormly, Staff Writer

So many forks, so many tines! Which one to take? Wikipedia lists 36 different culinary or kitchen forks, from asparagus fork to toasting fork. Who knew? But not all forks are associated with food. For example, there is fork in a tree, tuning fork, pitchfork, fork in a road, Southfork Ranch in Dallas, decision forks, and the town of Forks, named after the forks in nearby rivers. We fork over money. And a player can fork in chess, where a single piece attacks two or more pieces simultaneously, forcing the defender to decide how to minimize the loss. And then, of course, the road of life is constantly filled with forks, that is, if we have free will, and I believe we do. We have responsibility for our decisions, and hence, experience the consequences, good or bad. Robert Frost would have us take the road less traveled. And before that, Lewis Carroll gave us Alice:

Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’

That’s not entirely true, of course; it can matter. We may not know our specific destination, but we have a general idea of where we’re headed. We have no way of knowing what a given choice will bring, but we constantly make decisions. Those forks offer choices that, no doubt, have varying degrees of impact on our lives. The differences in the choices available at some forks are inconsequential, while others can significantly shape our lives. Perhaps some choices made are not even visible or noticed at the time, but later we might wonder and ask, “Did I miss something back there?” While it might be possible to occasionally make a U-turn, much of the road is one-way. Of course, some choices require a lot of agonizing and for some, prayer, before they are taken, and then one might second guess: “If only,” or “Did I do the right thing?” And that can be, in essence, one of those unanswerable ques- tions, and usually not a productive use of your time or energy. Some choices are just flat out bad, and regret sets in, but I’m choosing not to go there now.

I suppose one of the bigger impacts a decision made on my life is one that led to living overseas. As a youngster growing up in St. Louis, I probably assumed that I would live somewhere in the area my whole life. As it turns out, Margie and I married (without doubt, my best decision!) and we left St. Louis in our mid-20s, and never looked back. We have spent two-thirds of our lives in the Central Time Zone—as children, attending universities, and later, drawing paychecks. But that part of the country is mostly flat, and it’s also where the climate tends to have weather extremes: either too hot and/or too cold, too much snow, or too many severe storms. We never lived more than a day’s drive from St. Louis until we made a turn that took us to Europe, where we spent a total of eight years in Germany and Norway. Experiences there opened our eyes and minds to different ways of living and thinking. We enjoyed more moderate and pleasant climates, as well as mountains and salt water. We likely would not have retired to the Pacific Northwest nearly 18 years ago if it hadn’t been for our four years in Stavanger, Norway.

Some choices we make not only shape our own lives, but they also impact others in ways we might not have antici- pated. If we hadn’t been living overseas, our daughter argu- ably would not have been a university student in England. It is, therefore, unlikely that she would have attended a wedding in Rio de Janeiro where she met her future husband, and that means that their two daughters would not be in our lives. So, that is not just a chapter in a book that is different or missing; it is a whole book, or several books, that wouldn’t have been written. Ah, what an impact one decision at a fork has on more than just one life. And you thought your biggest challenge was to decide which fork to use for your salad.

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