My husband and I just finished our audiobook, Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. It’s an oldie that was made into a movie (directed by Sean Penn) in 2007. The hubster swears we watched it years ago, all I can say is I either fell asleep (not unusual for me at all) or didn’t like it, and maybe that’s why I don’t remember.
To make a long saga short, this is the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man from a good family who rejects his parents, society and the constraints of western life. He walks away from a promising future right after graduating from college to instead explore the wild and test his survival skills. Spoiler alert: he dies of starvation (or some kind of berry poisoning) after spending over 100 days in the Alaskan wilderness.
Chris McCandless was smart, extremely well versed in the classics, friendly but dangerously convinced of his moral and intellectual superiority. The author starts the book relaying facts about the young man’s death so the reader absorbs every successive description of this guy’s self assuredness and virtue signaling knowing that he was blinded, and ultimately condemned, by the shine of his own star.
I’m sure we can all think of similar examples today.
Never before have so many who’ve lived so little had so much to say about so much. Hubris, judgement and condescension rain down from thimble sized baskets of life experience.
Just yesterday, the Wall Street Journal printed an article about a 36 year old guy from St. Louis who set out to visit every country on earth and wound up being kidnapped off the street in Syria. His desperate parents, who most likely subsidized at least part his adventure, moved heaven and earth ($$) to secure his release. Once back in the States, after a brief respite, he resumed his global tourist trek and now offers his services as a “speaker.”
I ask you, who would you rather pay to have as a speaker, the dude who carelessly put himself in danger on an extended ‘vaca’ or the folks who rescued his sorry rear-end from a war ravaged country?
Chris McCandless’ answer to living on a budget was to literally set the cash he had on fire, just as his answer to engine trouble was to abandon his car on the side of the road. The irony is that the more he pulled away from society’s requirements and responsibilities, the more dependent he became on the goodwill of others who were living within its framework. It’s no different than the world traveller whose “free spirit” delivered him straight into that Syrian dungeon; he too created a scenario where he was totally dependent on the goodwill and hard work of many, many others who made it their mission to save him from certain death.
Food, clothing, shelter, a ride, rescue.. seems freeloading is often a critical component to being a free bird.
McCandless died a painful, tragic death within half a day’s walk away from help. The trouble was, he didn’t “believe” in using maps; if he had, he would have realized that he wasn’t living that far off the grid after all.
And that, in the end, was one of the many conclusions I drew from this story:
Independence is often an illusion.
Independence, so arrogantly celebrated and flaunted, is often quietly supported by a cadre of family and friends who not only receive no credit for their help, but are often resented by the one benefitting from their concern and support. The concomitant lack of close relationships invariably creates a false sense of invincibility which often leads to very bad decisions made without context or counsel.
Independence, when selfishly pursued to its extreme, can deliver us to some pretty solitary and scary places that eventually, ironically, make the seeker realize the true value of the very people he or she rejected.
In McCandless’ case, that realization sadly came too late.