Not Exactly Walden Pond

In the classic work Walden, Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately . . . .” As our day-to-day lives have settled into the new rhythms dictated by COVID-19, it strikes me that we are being forced into some version of deliberate living. 

The adjustments required by the presence of a virus for which we have no vaccine (and no coherent plan of response) have resulted, at least in the lives of my wife and myself, in an examination of activities and choices that before we didn’t think about in any kind of serious way. I would start a project at the house or in the yard with no definite plan in mind and proceed a bit at a time, letting the results of the previous choices suggest my next move. A trip to the big box home improvement store was an assumed part of the process, and it was not important if I forgot something. I would just jump in the car and make another run. 

Trips to the grocery worked more or less the same way, as did decisions about going downtown to meet friends or catch a movie or a meal at an old favorite or new place that sounded interesting. We would decide and an hour later be out the door and on the road.

No more, at least not for a time period yet to be determined. Tomorrow I am leaving the house for a trip to four places and do not intend to leave the house for another several weeks (barring an emergency of some kind). We’ve been thinking about this trip for several days, trying to make sure we aren’t leaving anything out. The places I’m going have options to minimize human contact, and I’m taking advantage of all of them. This morning I watched an online church service, with half of the people conducting the service working from their homes. We visited our children via Zoom this afternoon, and, while I’m talking with my parents regularly, I haven’t seen them for weeks and I expect it will be weeks before I see them again. I hope I see them again.

We are living deliberately; not by choice, but out of necessity. The rest of the Thoreau quote that I started with goes like this:

“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 practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”

We are certainly fronting the essential facts of life right now and we’re in in a position at present where there are important things to learn. It remains to be seen how well we will learn them, and what lessons we can carry forward that will make things better, more equitable, and healthier for us and our fellows. The lessons are there, I’m confident of that. I hope we can see them clearly and act accordingly. In the meantime, we’ve got a hell of a mess to deal with. 

It’s not exactly Walden Pond, is it?

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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