Friday, August 9, 2013
On Aug. 9, 1854, Henry Thoreau noted just two words in his journal: "'Walden' published." Since then, Thoreau's second book, a chronicle of his two years, two months and two days living alone, more or less, on Walden Pond, on land owned by his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a house he hewed himself with a borrowed axe, has been a guide to breaking free from the slavery we so often impose upon ourselves. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" he wrote, famously, before, less famously but in the very next paragraph, providing a ray of hope: "They honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that he sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence pass by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion."
Mere smoke perhaps, but enough to form a cloud that many, perhaps most, spend their lives wandering around in, utterly lost. Nor do people need a crowd to lead them astray—Thoreau spoke of the man who is "the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself." Another common predicament—those who decide early on what they are or must be, and then force themselves to stay that way. When life offers, as Thoreau reminds us, so many varied ways to be, if we only permit ourselves to choose the one most fitting to our true natures. "This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one center," Thoreau writes. "All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant."