Chucking It All Vacariously

Dear Will:

You know that feeling you get when you have 8,000 things you ought to do but the only thing you want to do is watch the ballgame? When your list is so long that you want to tell it “so long”? I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately.

There was a moment today when I was talking on my desk phone, another call was coming in on the second line, and my cell phone began to ring. At the time, I was staring at my email inbox, at the 60 or 70 unread messages and the 40 others on which I need to follow up. I pondered the clutter that surrounded me. And I thought how nice it would be to simply get up, walk out, and not come back.

Henry David Thoreau followed that same urge when he went off to live in the woods for a couple of years. He said he went there to live “deliberately.” Afterwards he said the following:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

I fell in love with Walden when I was in high school, for the same reason that he appeals to me now over 20 years hence: Thoreau puts into beautiful prose words of inspiration and aspiration, and if I lack the disposition to chuck it all and head to the woods, at least through Walden I have the option of doing so vicariously.  And rereading this passage reminds me that my next rereading is long overdue. Now I don’t presume to foist Henry David upon you—I have learned over the years that he is an acquired taste. But I figure it couldn’t hurt any of us—myself especially—to be reminded of the benefits of a simpler existence.

It’s probably wishful thinking—correction: it is wishful thinking; but even wishful thinking can be constructive if not done to excess. So I’ll end this brief lament with a few more ascendant words from HDT, words which remind us that there is more to life than the mundane details that preoccupy and distract us from day to day: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

PW

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