Photographed by Jasmin Wang’17
As I watched my school workload pile up steadily over the past few weeks and felt my stress levels increasing, I decided I needed to take a step back and allow myself some time to breathe. For the past week or so, I picked up a book that I had lying around in my room for quite some time. I never had the time nor motivation to read the Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The novel follows Thoreau throughout his two years of living in nature, supported by no one but himself, as an experiment. As I spent my train rides to and from school, free periods, and free time at home reading through Walden, I gained a profound sense of one living an entirely different lifestyle than my own. For one thing, the novel’s setting takes place in the mid-nineteenth century. There are many differences in societal norms prevalent in such an aged work of literature. Despite the different time period Thoreau writes about in contrast to the twenty-first century, I was pleasantly surprised that I could find some commonality and still understand the weight of Thoreau’s words. For example, he describes a simple life he lived: one in which he built his cabin with his own two hands, and took the time to appreciate all that Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, had to offer him. In this way, his temporary lifestyle is still one that many seek out, or many live themselves.
As a young person who has spent the entirety of their life in the city and someone who has grown to rely on their technological devices for daily use, the serenity of Walden is something I wish to someday achieve. The ways in which Thoreau observes animal behaviors and his surroundings throughout the novel stem from a philosophical perspective, and he is able to find his own peace in doing so. The simplicity of Thoreau’s experiment is admirable–to still feel connected to civilization and society while being completely detached from social interactions for such a long duration of time is a feat not easily achieved. There is a part of me that constantly wonders how time away from technology and human contact would change me, or make me see the world in a different, perhaps more profound, way.
Though my school work and responsibilities will not be fulfilled anytime soon, the closest I have to living such a simplistic existence has been by reading Walden. Because of my recent readings, I implore that everyone should read a work of literature that is written from an entirely different perspective than one’s own. Perhaps, in doing so, one can find one’s own meaning within it. It is imperative that time is taken to learn about lifestyles that differ from our own, because that is one of the surest ways we will grow to better understand ourselves.
Inspirational Quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau