Something That Happened

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Holy Cow!

Holy Cow!

It is too bad we have confined ourselves to this little corner of the playground… -via IFLS

It is too bad we have confined ourselves to this little corner of the playground… 

-via IFLS

Rereading Walden *July 20, 2014

Henry David Thoreau compressed two years of living into a single year… a life philosophy, an entire personal ethos, into a single volume… so in honor of that brevity I am not going to belabor this reflection, but I feel compelled to reflect…. Not only on what I read, the actual words and thoughts I digested, but on the experience of having read Walden again at this point in my life… and that is where I will begin… with me, and not with Thoreau… To steal a line from the text of his journal, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”…

It is strange how much a book can mean in the background of a person’s life and be remembered so dramatically differently than how it really exists… I have had that experience before in my life. An easy comparison is with a meaningful movie from my childhood… or with places… childhood, or just older memories that seem so big and profound, then when reexamined as an adult seem so small, so unremarkable and so ordinary…

That is not what happened here… quite the opposite… what I got was something bigger, grander, and far more complex than what existed in my memory… I struggled to remember when I read the book the first time… high school? College? I believe it was when I was around 20… I remember going to the woods to read this book about going to the woods to write it… and in that setting I suppose I read what I wanted to… I know I was never formally taught this book in a classroom… I never tore it apart in robust group discussions…but how could I have casually missed so much?

I guess I never really knew Walden…  but in degrees I discovered it on this read…

I did not read of the small, isolated and quaint cabin in the New England woods that I remembered…a place where a young man sojourned and tidily communed with a perfect nature… that cabin still paints a warm spot in my memory…. but instead I read of Thoreau’s roughhewn cabin cobbled together with salvage… built over a cellar scratched into the earth… and hiding so much more… because what the book really contains is an exploration of a mansion filled with dim rooms… rooms which I began to reveal in my reading…. And as a man reading Walden, I feel I saw far more of the depths that Thoreau plumbed a century and a half ago on the banks of those deep, clear waters…

Symbolically everything produced in his journal looked inward…and perhaps like Thoreau’s belief that he was as the pond was, truly hidden from view, an unappreciated and value-obscured font of clarity, depth, and natural purity…perhaps I, too, absorbed more from my first reading of this work than I can recall… but much like the bottom of the pond, which many of Thoreau’s regional peers believed didn’t exist, those things slipped beneath the surface to lie hidden until they were actively sought… in other words… I recalled the story of the poet in the woods, but very little about how much of me I saw in his record… Little did I realize how many core beliefs espoused in this work resemble core beliefs that I hold dear… beliefs about purpose and real worth and how men should live… like Thoreau, I struggle to commit to things wherein I perceive no real value… and cannot see the world through any eyes but my own…out of step, out of step…

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”

I can safely say that I have long felt out of step…materialism, industry… what we should do and should pursue just don’t have any value for me… money and appearance and social perception matter far less than what a person holds as truth…and I believe that we are all naturally moral… it is the world that changed us… experiences, etc… and never is there a time that it is too late for us to improve this, the present… all I believe we have… I have said so many times in my life the following little maxim… “You can either be popular or be honest, but not both”…

I do not know who I stole that from, not in phrase or as an ideation of a way to live, but it always feels relevant to me….today…. just as I like to imagine it would have been meaningful for Thoreau as a young man… so capable of all the things the world expects that he should do… learned, raised, bred… but what value does it have for a person to live in a manner that rejects all of the truths and meaning that we personally hold as precious? The real things to us, as individuals… not the goals and rewards society chooses, but those in which you find personal worth… to be aware of the impact that this type of thinking has in the context of a world that sees human needs, and by this I mean those things above the basics of survival, as material…. or I guess more clearly human rewards that are spiritual, intangible, not physical, primarily in terms of religions, and heavens, and gods, I will turn to the Biblical adages that both Thoreau and I cut our teeth on as first philosophies, and quote this this passage from the Gospel of Mark, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”…

Reality, as it exists, feels designed to steal our souls… advertisements, car payments, name-brands, deception… wants become needs, become the entire sums for which people string together the hours that make up their lives… they are shallowly entertained, and, to quote, "The universe is wider than our views of it."

Of criticisms? There are endless things I could talk about… the tediousness of the animal’s descriptions… how forced I felt the eastern mysticism was that sprung up through the book (something I never remembered)… those old complaints about how a man could be rejecting the world who walks railroad tracks and visits the local town for meals… (which I only lightly recalled- I remembered visitors, but his closeness and relationship to the outside was much obscured by the distance I am at from when I read the book… a distance much greater than Concord was from Thoreau’s wilderness adventure)… but none of that matters…

We can look back and impose conditions on what things of real value Thoreau could offer us… we can use a century of further civilization and progress and take pot shots at his philosophy and inconsistencies…. or just take what is still there for us… timeless, not from our time… and see what we can learn about a individuals stab at deliberate living…not look at all that causes our world, much like the world of the mid-19th century, provide us to loathe and tear at what is irreconcilable with where progress dictates we seek meaning.

In other words, it is not what he did… or how he did it… it just matters that against all of the world’s pressures to conform, to bend, and to blend, he just did it… "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," and surely, in many ways, so did Thoreau… but his desperation wasn’t quiet …and 150 years later we can skim the surface of his efforts and capture the glow of what he gleaned through choosing to try and be true to his what he believed to be his natural self…   

Just like the passage that states,

“Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each spring, to be plucked by the musing traveller; planted and tended once by children’s hands, in front-yard plots…—sole survivor of that family. Little did the…children think that the
puny slip…they stuck in the ground in the shadow of the house and daily watered, would root itself so, and outlive them, and the house itself… and tell their story faintly to the lone wanderer a half-century after they had grown up and died, — blossoming as fair, and smelling as sweet, as in that first spring.”

He wasn’t doing it for you…. And even though he wrote and rewrote and altered his journal, it was in an attempt to share his journey… He was never living an exercise built of some unobtainable pure Truth as much as trying to discern some kernel of Truth from the exercise… and in the exercise he threw round his line to try and see the measure of things in many directions…the depths he discovered were far more profound in some places than in others… and the records he kept matter more in some places, to some people, than to others…. and did he find truth? Or Truth? I think so… but much like he sunk the weights to find the depth of the clear waters he lived alongside and recorded those things for us to read, we only read the record and take from his explorations what resonates for us as individuals in pursuit of the same…

“Say what you ought to say, not what you should. Any truth is better than make believe.”

 

Henry David Thoreau- Walden

Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. “Tell the tailors,” said he, “to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch.” His companion’s prayer is forgotten.