23 July 2014

Other Lives to Lead

Thoreau says that he left Walden for the same reason as he went there in the first place: he had other lives to lead. Now, I recall that he originally occupied Walden as an experiment: “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 did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” I have never had Thoreau’s discipline but at no point in my life have I not tried to live by his principles. And at this moment I am drawn to these lines because I am leaving a Walden.
            For years I have defined myself as a long-distance runner, and for many years I actually was such. I had run three marathons in not unrespectable times, and I have accululated and worn through drawer-fuls of race t-shirts. There were times in my past when I logged in at forty and fifty miles; when I anticipated the journey out and often sought means and paths that would lengthen that passage; when during the run I did not concern myself with time nor climate. I loved to run and lived in my running. But these days I seem more apt to anticipate the cessation of the effort and the closeness of the approach to home. Now I count my steps and measure the time until I can stop. I hope for rain and difficult weather. I no longer experience the freedom or joy of the trail.

            And so I have taken to the health club and lifting free weights. I have enrolled in spin cycle classes and in attempts at various forms of Yoga. I am seeking a life of activity away from the running trail. It is difficult to leave one Walden even for another and so in the process I experience questions of identity and selfhood: if I am not a long distance runner then who am I? Or perhaps it is that I don’t leave my Walden but rather take it with me to my next location. I have other lives to lead. “I will not plant beans and corn with so much industry another summer, but such seeds, if the seed is not lost, as sincerity, truth, simplicity, faith, innocence, and the like, and see if they will not grow in this soil, even with less toil and manurance, and sustain me, for surely it has not been exhausted for these crops.” And so I do not leave the runningthough they are fewer there are still miles to go before I sleepbut I plant other seeds that I hope may sustain me. It is all an experiment and they are all Walden Ponds. I am learning new horizons and limits.

1 Comments:

Anonymous barbara said...

Your words sadden me this evening and remind me of our immortality! They also make me wish I had known Thoreau personally so I could have visited a bit with him in his forest dwelling where life was authentic and sweet for sure.

23 July, 2014 22:56  

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