Monday, January 21, 2008

A Diet of Dreams

I just saw the film “Into the Wild.” It is a different perspective from Krakauer's brilliant biography of Christopher “Alexander” McCandless, but it's telling of the brief enigmatic life of McCandless is no less profound in it's effect on me. It is the story of a life I could nearly have chosen. I highly recommend both the book and film. I have included the response I wrote in my gridbook journal after I first read the book in 2003:

I finished "Into The Wild." Who cannot love this reckless young man? What older man cannot read this and see his own self in younger dreamier days? Chris McCandless lived out so many of my boyish fantasies. How many times have I looked longingly into a forest or a mountain range and thought "What if I just left the road and walked out into that?" I read and recall myself running a tiny path through the woods in the heart of a violent storm hearing the ancient trees crashing across the path behind me—exhilarated and feeling more alive than ever. I remember myself wandering the remote mountain villages in Haiti with nothing but a water bottle and a camera.

I recollect hearing Alexander often spoken or even sung about by friends in college; he had already become a sort of patron saint for young men like us. I got out my old CD of songs from college which mentioned McCandless. Listening to Tom singing years ago on these recordings always is emotional for me—relics of a world that no longer exists for me, a world that shaped me. I recall the nights in the cabin beside the fire with other wild-hearted young men singing songs, reading each other our melodramatic poems. We all had bigger dreams and bigger ideas then: meeting before sunrise to sing prayers in the form of Gregorian Chants, because ancient monks had purer hearts than we ...playing soccer naked at midnight after butchering and cooking our own pig ...reading books by men long dead ...growing long beards ...sleeping in abandoned garages and cotton fields as we wandered the back highways without a map ...walking barefoot and reading books in trees.

We didn't take things as far as Alexander. We were mostly normal college students who usually slept in beds, flirted with girls, and ate processed foods, but we all had a piece of ourself in another world. When we wanted we could partake in the food of saints and dreamers. Now as an older man I am exclusively a man of the "real world." Alexander turned his back on the "real world" and lived exclusively on a diet of dreams far more vigorous than our occasional tastes, and he died of starvation in his sleeping bag. Who cannot envy this arrogant, foolish boy who never sold out?

My days of risks are over. I have a wife now, I will not run in a hurricane or wander uncharted villages alone again. These minor risks were appropriate for a young man, but now my wife is my priority and I must act responsibly. I am proud to be her husband and would never trade her for any one of McCandless' freedoms. I will soon have patients that depend on me for their life and health, and this will also be good. The ties that bind us are good. There can be virtue in this world too. One of those virtues is discipline. I have a huge test soon, and I have spent an entire day in this book and these sentimental musings. These are things I cannot do. Too many people are trusting me.

I leave this now to try to refocus myself on the work that has been set out for me. As I go I say a silent prayer for Jade and Fernando–the last two among us to live so exclusively on a diet of wild dreams–wherever in the world they might be . I could imagine either of them turning up dead on an adventure even more beautiful and foolish than Alexander's, but I pray that they are safe, as I also earnestly pray that they are doing nothing so banal as my work today, that they never give up that which I have chosen to leave behind. Somehow knowing that they are out there living these dreams makes my own burdens feel lighter.


tom said...

Jonathan, provacative and poignant as usual. Thank you for these posts.

It caused me to remember, and to think.

Have you read Jamaica Kincaid's essay about tourism?

IrelandRomania said...

Jonathan, I read your two comments on my blog and thought...I know this guy. It took me a second. I liked your blog on Alex. I was also deeply impacted by the book and could also have seen myself easily going down a similar path, especially spiritually (away from the church, or institutional religion, as I used to call it in my disenchanted days). As I finish up my two-year stint in Romania, I wonder, though, if abandoning one's own culture/society for a time does not have its advantages.