Who Does She Thinks She Is?

I am an old soul. It matters not my age nor my global position; my heart has made a connection with one of the literary greats and I seek to introduce a man that few bother to understand. Henry would probably see me as one of the sillies, caught up too much in the ridiculousness that is modern life, but I desire to take a page from his book and simplify, simplify, simplify!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Art of Living Well

He was a strange little man.  At least by the world's standard, that is what Henry David Thoreau came across as. I struggle with the self-appointed task of introducing a friend that I have never met.  Why is it possible that I feel like I know him though he died a hundred years before I was born?  Perhaps this gives us a glimpse of the power of journal keeping, of writing, of recording one's thoughts and observations.  One can become immortal in the sense that generations to come can grow to feel as strong a connection as friendship and even kinship.

All I have with which to know Henry by are his own writings, and the observations of those that knew him well.  I have an obituary; I have a comprehensive eulogy written by the gracious Ralph Waldo Emerson, a long-time friend; I have the expert and irrefutable resource of our own modern-day Wikipedia.

Here is what Henry could have been:  He could have followed his father into the family business of making pencils. Indeed he did apply himself for a time to the craft of manufacturing lead pencils with all the energy and focus that he gave toward everything he did.  Always up for a challenge, rather than content himself with merely learning the craft, he determined that he could make a better pencil! "After completing his experiments, he exhibited his work to chemists and artists in Boston, and having obtained their certificates to its excellence and to its equality with the best London manufacture, he returned home contented." (RWE, Eulogy, 1862)

That was enough.  The challenge having been met, he commented to friends that he should never make another pencil.  "Why should I? I would not do again what I have done once."  That was obviously not the life that Henry had imagined for himself and he knew that the easy way would be to assume a role and a life that was expected.  "...it required rare decision to refuse all the accustomed paths and keep his solitary freedom at the cost of disappointing the natural expectations of his family and friends." (RWE)

He was not slothful.  He never expected to live off of the generosity of others that he might spend his life tromping around in the woods.  He took seriously the task of living independently and held every man to the same duty.  He simply chose to be rich by making his wants few.  What followed was a life of a handyman, doing odd jobs long enough to buy himself the time to do what he really wanted.  He was an expert surveyor, and thus found that he could earn what little he needed by tromping around in the woods that he loved.

As Emerson eloquently describes:  "He declined to give up his large ambition of knowledge and action for any narrow craft or profession, aiming at a much more comprehensive calling, the art of living well."

It was a gamble, but Henry believed in himself and in his dreams and left us with the timeless challenge:

"...if one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpect."

He knew there would be sacrifices in following his dreams, but he also knew that it could surely bring glorious rewards. He stepped to the beat of the music that he heard, and he didn't expect others to join his parade; he wanted them to make their own kind of music too.

Henry David Thoreau found that by passing the invisible boundary between the expected and the unexpected he was able to "live with the license of a higher order of beings". 

We should all be so courageous and so blessed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so excited to follow along with you on this adventure! Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a dum, dum and understand things much better when it's explained to me. I love that you're sharing your talents via the blogispher. I like the ah-ha moments I get when I read your blogs. :-)