January 19, 2009

Into the Wild -- Do Your Dreams Slip?


Last week I boarded a Jet Blue flight from New York to Long Beach, CA. I carried with me a copy of the book Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. It's been over a year since I watched the movie for the first time, and until now I have never read the book. If you have never read the book, do so now. I read it cover to cover on my flight.

This is not a story of a crazy, self indulgent greenhorn that wandered naively into the wild. No. On the surface, it is a story of a young man who walked through a world he intellectually despised. Under its thin skin this is really a story of a young man who is torn between his stubborn will to see good and evil through a black and white lens, and his blossoming soul that inspired so many who crossed his path.

Questions will emerge as you read. For example, have you ever felt nervous, yet euphoric, as long awaited plans unfold after months, even years, of preparation? Then, in a moment, you find yourself standing in a place where the dream you've flirted with is becoming a reality?

Chris McCandless, the "pilgrim" in the book, stood at the end of an Alaskan road. His dream was about to become a reality. He thanked the man who drove him to this point and who gave him a pair of boots from his truck. Then, after traveling thousands of miles, seeing with his own eyes much of the "great work God has done here in the American West", touching the souls of the many friends he made along his way, McCandless simply turned and walked into the wild, out of his dream, and into reality.

What kept me reading this book more than anything was the glimpse it afforded me into my own past. The non-conformist, anti-fraternity, anti-social philosophy McCandless held as a young adult was very familiar to me. I only wish I could've met him for a beer as he kayaked along the Colorado River while I traversed the Bright Angel trail under the towering cliffs of the Grand Canyon.

If you read this story it will beg you to answer many questions about your own life. Do you believe in the life you live? Do you live for, or merely with, the material trappings you so enjoy? Do you take your life for granted? Are its routines, its habits keeping you from embracing change? When you reach for something, something big, do you capture it? Or do you let it slip, slowly, from your grasp?

Some would say McCandless let his life slip recklessly from his grasp. But life is not of only flesh and bone. And with that I say he held firmly to his dream as he walked and remained, forever, into the wild.

15 comments:

Tyler Booth said...

I would say this is my favorite book/movie of all time!

Those who say that Chris was a fool just don't get it...

"Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild." - Alexander Supertramp May 1992

Greg said...

As a reporter, I greatly admire Krakauer's craft in reassembling the life of CM. It's amazing. Using literary techniques, he is able to recount a life lived fully but one that tragically was cut short. Foolish, naive city slicker? Noble young man in pursuit of a dream who ran into bad luck? The debate forever will rage. I, for one, simply admire this young man's unquenchable thirst to live life to the fullest without the usual trappings. Like an ultrarunner, he wanted life to be raw and unedited, and to soak up the good as well as the bad. I feel a kinship to his spirit.

Anonymous said...

I'll buy the book tomorrow!
Laura

Anonymous said...

I will be a naysayer. I didn't see it as heroic. It simply demonstrates that people do what they do based on what they believe and love. This boy became enamored with Thoroeua and Jack London and bought into their ideas of spiritual growth through uniting with nature. I believe a Christian worldview, so to me, his life is a tragedy. In my paradigm, relationships are more important than self fulfillment and loving and serving others is more important than pursuing one's own dreams and desires. In Christianty, the irony is that as you love and serve God and others, you find your true self and and your full humanity. I feel for his family. Greg Lowe.

Tyler Booth said...

Mr. Lowe,
I don't see what's wrong with doing what one "believes and loves".....

"I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!"

--McCandless, final note.

Anonymous said...

Well, we all do what we believe and follow what we love. That's the problem, from a biblical worldview. I don't want to get into a worldview debate, unless you'd like to, but when everybody does that, interpersonal conflict and wars erupt, not to mention that the focus of my life becomes narrow and self destructive. Mr. McCandless life is tragic because it is self focused and relationally destroying. His family and friends were deprived of relationship with him and what he had to offer because he was in pursuit of self enlightenment of some transcendent experience. We can do the same on a lesser level when we as ultrarunners put our running over our families and end up devoting huge amounts of time in search of a goal when they need us there to be loving and serving them. It's about keeping first things first. When second things take priority over first things, our life becomes out of balance. Greg Lowe. Just offering my opinion.

Tyler Booth said...

Mr. Lowe,
His physical actions may have been destructive, but to be totally free is something all humans dream of.

People view total freedom in different ways. I assume Christianity sets you free. Buddism sets people free. Islam sets people free. Traveling sets people free. Reading sets people free. Art sets people free. running sets people free.

Living life on his terms set Chris free....I too feel a kinship to his spirit.

Anonymous said...

Not to be a bother, but living life on his terms makes him a slave....to himself and his desires. Buddism and Christianity oppose this idea. Greg Lowe.

Anonymous said...

To expand, doing what one wants does not make one free. That makes one a slave to self. Buddhism has tapped into the Christian idea that self denial makes one free. Greg Lowe.

Tyler Booth said...

I disagree...

In my opinion, no religious text can tell you how to find "ultimate freedom". "Freedom" is a personal state of mind that is different for each individual.

I used Buddism as an example in the same way I referenced art. Both have potential to allow people to find "ultimate inner freedom". It depends on the individual.

In Chris' case, he found his freedom by being selfish and conquering his own challenge. Having not lived in his mind, you cannot assume that because he was selfish he didn't feel "free".

He felt "free" in his own way. Was it optimal spiritual freedom? Who knows?

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on who defines freedom and slavery. This is why I make an overt reference to a Christian worldview. The question is which worldview is right, Christianity, or your view that you live by, or that Mcandless lived by. Who is right? That is the question. Jesus or Thoreou. The question is where does one find authority for their views and beliefs, in themselves, or somewhere else. Christianity looks to God for their base of understanding and truth. Greg Lowe.

Tyler Booth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler Booth said...

I see what you’re saying....

However, I'm would never encourage some sort of philosophical/ideological competition (Thoreau vs. Jesus). No way of thinking is "right". I'm saying that by fully submitting yourself to anyone's philosophy but your own is not freedom.

With that said, I think we can draw the conclusion that "ultimate freedom" is a state of mind or attitude. No matter how you reach it (spiritually, emotionally, physically)....It's personal

Anonymous said...

I read about this experience years ago..in the mid 90's. Having lived and worked in the backcountry for several years, I took it a bit different than many. It was a sad and pathetic story not worthy of publishing. It was story of a selfish, unprepared individual for life and the backcountry..I find it interesting that this became a movie and anthem for many to praise..Going into the wilderness is one thing..but being stupid every step of the way is another..This from having to pick out fools going in not prepared..

Trail Pixie said...

Will, Thanks for your message on my blog, Trail Pixie Trespas. I read INTO THE WILD last year and then saw the film. I was impressed with Penn's cautious and artful translation of the novel. One of the major lessons I took away from both: pay attention, especially to details.
Cheers! Trail Pixie