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      트위터 페이스북 미투데이 네이버 구글 msn  
The Road Less Traveled
2013년 03월 25일 (월) 15:11:38 GLOBE globe@jbnu.ac.kr

Something I read in high school really stuck with me. Henry David Thoreau, a 19th century American author, poet, philosopher and lover of nature, left the city and took up a solitary life in a cabin by Walden Pond. He was looking for the good life, and for him that meant living simply, working hard, writing, and thinking about the important questions. In 1854 he published “Walden,” a collection of his essays about his experiences during that time. When discussing why he finally decided to leave, he writes,

It is remarkable how easily we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

I come back to his words often. It is so easy for us to get comfortable in life. So easy to fall into routine, to believe what our friends and family believe, to live our lives the way people from our background generally live their lives, whatever. We trust this beaten track because it usually rewards us with structure, stability and creature comforts. But. What about the uncharted waters? What about exploration? What about the road less traveled?

When I was a junior in college, I decided to drop out of school. I wanted to play music and write and travel. I honestly thought that I would learn more by having interesting conversations with strangers, reading great novels, and seeing the world, than I would by sitting in a classroom. Now, I can see that that was a really stupid idea, and I understand why my parents were so unhappy with me. At the time though, I was brimming with high hopes and I couldn’t wait to prove them wrong.

It was not as romantic or cinematic as I’d expected it to be. I caught a ride from my friend to Las Vegas, where I played my guitar for money on the street. Everybody ignored me. Nobody gave me money. I gambled and lost—that’s not a euphemism. I rode buses around for a while and ended up in Los Angeles, then hitchhiked up the west coast. I had just broken up with my first girlfriend, the real love of my life, and I missed her pretty bad the whole time. I missed my family and friends, and hot showers, and clean beds. I ended up in Seattle, and I bought an old Volkswagen for $400 and slept in the backseat. I played my guitar in Pioneer Square every afternoon and bought coffee with the change that people would toss in my guitar case as they hurried by on their way to work.

Then, one day, when I woke up in the backseat of my car, nobody was there. Streets were empty of cars, and sidewalks empty of people. The shops were all closed. It was a ghost town. I wandered around aimlessly until I found an electronics store with TVs facing the window. I had slept through 9/11 and was stuck in an empty city watching the Twin Towers come down on a TV without sound. It was an isolating experience.

I drove home immediately. Well, I started to drive home. The majestic and menacing Rocky Mountains stand between Seattle and my hometown, Minneapolis, and my car was undone by the challenge. By the time I got to an exit with a bus station, my engine was screaming and smoke was billowing out from under the hood. On top of that, I realized that I didn’t have enough money for gas. I parked at the bus station and quickly found out that I didn’t have enough for a ticket either. I ended up selling my car for $20 to a guy at the station, bought my ticket, and made it home and back to school with my tail between my legs.

I suppose you could say that I proved myself wrong. It was definitely a wrong-headed and half-cooked plan. I didn’t think about money, I was naïve and arrogant to think that I could just stumble around and that the world would take care of me. Or, that I’d be able to just write and play music and somehow that would work out magically. Pretty ridiculous. But, at the same time, I don’t regret going through with it. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, as they say.

The thing is, and I think everybody will agree with me on this, is that after an experience is over, and as it grows smaller in our rearview mirror, we quickly start to forget the negatives. Think about high school. I know that I hated high school while I was in it. I was terrible with girls, I had serious growing pains (literally and figuratively), fights with friends, acne, etc. But, time goes by and you naturally focus in on the good stuff. And if you do recall the bad stuff, it doesn’t feel like a big deal anymore. But, on the other hand, in the middle of all those tough breaks, you might find out something about yourself or the world around you that will shape you and stay with you for a long time. Or, at least I did:

Grand Teton National Park is a vast, gorgeous stretch of protected wilderness in northwest Wyoming. During my little misadventure away from college, I camped there for two days. For those two days, I didn’t see another person, not even far off in the distance. It was late summer and the weather was perfect. Sitting in front of my tent, tending my fire, I had miles of wild forest behind me and a clear lake surrounded by mountains in front of me. I don’t think I’ve ever been more content. I swam naked the first day and let the sun dry me. I made beans and rice over my fire and read with a flashlight in my tent before bed. The sky was clear, and untroubled by city lights, it showed me as many stars as I’ll ever see.

Then, in the morning, when I went to swim again, I saw that every rock on the beach was covered with ladybugs. It was bizarre. Thousands and thousands of them. Millions, I don’t know. And making my way gingerly through the rocks, trying not to step on any of my visitors, I could see that as the waves lapped up against the shore, huge numbers of these ladybugs were being carried away into the lake.

I spent hours swimming in the lake, paddling around with one hand, while I held my other arm above the water, scooping up as many of the floundering ladybugs as I could, then I’d get back to shore, nudge them off my forearm, further back from the water, and get back in and do it again. It was exhausting. I’d take breaks and warm up by my fire, drink some coffee, then get back to it.

I kept swimming around, trying to save ladybugs, until the sun went down. Then, I sat by my fire and played my guitar with numb fingers and entertained the notion that they were all listening to me, speaking amongst themselves, trying to get to the bottom of my sudden, dramatic presence in their world. In regards to faith, or spirituality, or whatever term you might choose to apply, my day with the ladybugs made an impact on me, and my current belief system is largely based on thoughts that I’ve had as a result of that experience.

Or, how about the man who bought my car at the bus station? He came to the station in his car. He certainly didn’t need mine, considering its condition. When I offered to sell it to him he laughed, but then we got to talking. He told me he was there to pick up his daughter and he asked me about my situation. When I told him why I was going home—that I had seen the attack on the World Trade Center on TV that morning, and that it made me want to get back home to my family and friends--he was completely stunned. He had no idea what I was talking about.

As it happened, he had called in sick to work early that morning and had laid around in bed getting over a cold. He didn’t have a radio in his car and he lived alone, so he had no idea that anything out of the ordinary had taken place. So, the two of us, we got into my car and turned on the radio--the only thing still working properly--and sat there, both of us choked-up, grim and silent, listening to coverage of the national tragedy until his daughter’s bus arrived. Before he left he asked me how much I needed for a ticket, and I told him $10. He gave me $20 and we hugged each other goodbye. I never knew his name.

Well anyway, in the end, Thoreau left Walden Pond. He saw that he had made a path to the water, and realized that even in the wilderness, separated from society, he was falling into routines, and that routines quickly become ruts. In both our actions and our thinking. But, as often as I come back to his thoughts on leaving Walden Pond, his words about why he went there in the first place are the real deal:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I believe that we have a responsibility to know ourselves. To find out who we are under all the heaping piles of distraction that we call Life. To keep asking important questions and to keep making mistakes. Although I wouldn’t recommend dropping out of school, or rebelling against your parents or your culture, I would encourage you to find a way to step off the beaten track every once in a while. It’s a mindset. Expand the limits of your world. Because I really believe that the world is here to change us, and not the other way around.

We get stuck in our ways, and before long we are not asking important questions and we simply live like other people live. But I believe the world is here to change us, and needs our active participation to do so. So whenever I have felt myself getting into a rut, when I have felt a lack of creativity or energy or excitement about my life, I have left Walden, so to speak.

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