The photo popped up in my feed, and I couldn’t believe it.
It was the cabin of Henry David Thoreau, one of my all-time philosophical crushes. The young man who went into the woods of Massachussetts in the mid 1800s because he wished to live deliberately, and who spent two years living off the land and thinking and writing.
It had never occurred to me it would still be there. Real. Furnished. Photographable.
I was pretty excited.
You see, I have very fond feelings for Henry’s cabin. It is to me the way imagined nostalgia for a golden-hued childhood spent riding bikes and trading bottle-caps would be to one whose youth was much colder and grittier. It has the siren call of a life I feel I have heard so much about and wish in some intangible way was my own story, not simply one discovered between pages of other people’s memories.
I’m not sure what it is exactly about the cabin, and Thoreau’s grand experiment, that calls to my heart so. But I think it has to do with fearlessness.
The fearlessness of staring down materialism, and ideas about success and failure, and what is worth spending the minutes and hours and years of our life on, and of being willing to look strange or unsuccessful if the answers you find necessitate changes in your budget or schedule.
It’s the fearlessness of acknowledging one’s own mortality and the true brevity of our time to live well and love well and actually do something that matters. Of seeing the ways that we trade passion for comfort and forcing us to ask if we will still respect ourselves in the morning. To clear-sightedly imagine a possible future in which we wake, bleary-eyed, with squandered fires in our belly, and only then know the true fear of realising there is more of life behind than ahead, and its greatest characteristic to date is compromise.
Reading Walden, Thoreau’s journal, is always enough to make me trim my budget, schedule coffee with those I love, open my laptop and write, for goodness sake, write.
Because what I want, in my heart, is to one day be able to write something with enough meaning and beauty and truth that there is even the tiniest possibility that someone in 200 years may still be talking about it. And when I really think about it, a lot of the things that can crowd out the time and space to actually move towards that goal are nothing when I imagine the possibility of never making it happen.
And one of the things I loved about seeing that picture of Thoreau’s cabin is that it reminds me – I have a desk. I have something to write with. I have walls and a roof. The rest is up to me. Just me.
That is scary and exhilarating.
And it makes me want to be fearless too.
What dream needs you to be fearless?