30 November 2008

I Love Me Some People

I'm reading the nonfiction book "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer, and the main character is a young man who forgoes his privileged background to live off the land in the wilds of Alaska. He burns his money, abandons his car, cuts himself off from his parents and tramps across the American West before deciding to head way up North.

The author spends some time in the book discussing and describing other young men in this century who have done the exact same thing - shrug off the norms of society for the untamed, often cruel, wilds of nature. A common thread in all these adventures (besides the fact they usually result in death or disappearance) is that each of the men were middle class, somewhat privileged, young, and completely disillusioned with the human experience. They all came to the conclusion people lied, cheated, stole, and were generally oppressive. There was nothing redeeming about being part of the human race. However, nature was none of those things...she was heartless, yes, but at least that was known up front. No illusions.

The author then goes on to explain that these young men have been lauded as brave and spiritually superior; they were willing to dig past the capitalist trappings of current society to pursue truth. Others have criticized them for stupidly underestimating and disrespecting nature. It is not my goal here to dispute any of this, but I will say that I do not understand the ideas of the former.

To me, people are one of the main reasons we exist on this planet. I know I wake up each day because of people. I wake up to see my husband first thing in the morning, my children at the breakfast table, my colleagues in the workplace, my students in their desks, my parents at a restaurant (or wherever), and my friends everywhere.

Just about everything I do revolves around others. Maybe writing is the closest solo activity I can think of. I do enjoy solitude...no doubt that...but I know I would feel emotionally adrift if I were not connected to people in some way every day of my life.

One of the best children's books I have ever read is Jon J Muth's "The Three Questions." It's an adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy short story, in which the protagonist, a young boy, is attempting to find answers to his three most important questions:

1. When is the best time to do things?
2. Who is the most important one?
3. What is the right thing to do?

After visiting with a wise, old turtle (hey, it's a parable), the boy eventually discovers the answers:

1. The most important time is now.
2. The most important one is the one right beside you.
3. The right thing to do is whatever's best for the person/people around you.

Two of these three answers have to do with people and taking responsibility for their well-being. I think about the Dungeons and Dragons get-together last night...good food, good friends, good times. I don't need the Alaska mountains or Arizona desert to find meaning in life - it was in my kitchen.

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