The Marrow of Life (Writing 101, Day 4)

Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

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 practice 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 haven’t read beyond the first chapter of Walden, but I’ve been to Walden Pond.  I saw the place Thoreau built his little cabin.  I walked the same paths, put my feet in the same water.  The funny thing about Thoreau’s escape into nature is that he really didn’t go that far.  The pond by which he spent two years is only a couple of miles from Concord.  My friend and I walked there from town.  So, although it made for some beautiful self-reflection, Thoreau wasn’t in any serious danger.  But I digress.

I’m no scholar of Transcendentalism (my focus is actually British literature), but I love what Thoreau gets at here.  He goes to the woods to find what it is to live.  He strips life down to its barest essentials.  He digs deep, gets his hands dirty, and finds what it is to be truly alive.

Have you ever gone to the woods?

When I pose this question, I’m not talking about a stroll through the forest.  Nor am I wondering if you’ve spent two years living as a hermit in the wilderness.

Have you ever, to use Thoreau’s words, sucked the marrow of life?  Have you ever started a journey, forged a relationship, created something with your hands, that made you understand what it feels to be truly alive?

I know that I have tasted the marrow of life.  I have glimpsed life’s bright light.  I have experienced moments of complete wholeness and peace.  But it has always been fleeting.  It is always a taste, always a glimpse, always a moment.

I want to live like Thoreau.  His words aren’t those of someone who is timid.  His words are bold.  He doesn’t want to exist; he wants to thrive.  He wants to cut broadly, shave closely, to drive, to be sturdy, to be strong.

I don’t want to live what is not life.  I want to bask in the simple pleasures of every day.  I want to find work that brings meaning not only to myself, but to others.  Although I wish it to be, I’m starting to realize that life doesn’t have to be large.  It doesn’t have to be filled with excitement and movement to be meaningful.  Thoreau certainly wasn’t having epic adventures as he tended to his garden and walked through the woods.  Richness can be found through simplicity, through solitude, through taking time to be still.

So, dear readers, let’s be like Thoreau.  Let us go to the woods.  Let us suck the marrow of life.  Because what an awful thing it would be to reach the end of our days and discover that we hadn’t lived at all.

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This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

On the East Coast

There’s something incredibly empowering about learning to travel alone.  Stepping on an airplane bound for the other side of the country by yourself is so liberating.  Traveling is a love my parents instilled in me at a very young age, and learning to do it on my own is such a grand adventure.

I’ve gotten to spend the past week exploring Boston, MA.  I flew out last week, navigated the transportation system, and found my way to the MIT campus.  My old roommate, Alli, is at grad school there, you see, and offered free lodging and good company.  Despite valiantly striving towards the completion of her thesis (which she submitted the day I left), she was kind enough to be my guide and traveling companion!

Boston has been on my list for a long time.  I was drawn by the call of American history, of Revolution, of massacres and meeting halls and tea parties.  And it did not disappoint!  We spent a whole day following the Freedom Trail from the State House o the U.S.S. Constitution.  Along the way we passed the location of the Boston Massacre, various meeting halls, Old North Church (a la Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride), and the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  We treated ourselves to cannolis on the North Side, and I may or may not have dropped a tea bag in the Harbor.

Some of the time was spent on my own.  I found my way to the art museums, where I spent a day wandering through galleries.  I went to the MFA and Gardner respectively.  Although very nice, they weren’t anything to write home about.  I highly suspect that my time in Europe has spoiled art museums for me.  Ah well.

One afternoon, Alli and I explored Harvard University.  Let me tell you, Harvard lives up to its expectations!  There’s a certain gradure to all the red brick buildings arranged around large grassy malls with flowering trees.  We didn’t go in any of the buildings, content to wander the campus.

The highlight of the trip was our day trip to Concord.  We took the commuter train in the morning and spent the day walking around the New England town.  The sun was out and the lilacs in bloom, rendering the atmosphere idyllic.  Throughout the day we saw the homes (and graves) of famous literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.  We actually toured Orchard House, which belonged to the Alcotts, and is where Louisa wrote Little Women.  We also walked to Walden Pond, where Thoreau lived by the labor of his own hands for two years.  We saw the location of his cabin and had a picnic by the water’s edge.  On a more historical note, we visited the Old North Bridge, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.  Throughout the day, we crossed paths with several of the locals, who treated us to free lectures on lesser known historical figures and poetry recitations.

I could go on about my trip for pages and pages.  In fact, I could easily write up a post for every little thing I saw, explaining their historical significance and general awesomeness, but really… I don’t have time for that.  So this, my friends, is all you guys will get.  It’s funny, the more you travel, the more your wanderlust grows.  I’m so thankful to have gotten to take a week to dig deeper into history, art, and literature.  Who knows where I’ll go next?

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Alli and I on our Concord day trip