Friday, September 21, 2012

Quiet Desperation

"The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation." Henry David Thoreau

Asherel and I were supposed to read fifty pages of Walden yesterday for her curriculum. I had not read Walden by Henry David Thoreau in years. I had forgotten, or perhaps had read it at too young an age to realize what a master he was in using words, and symbols, and imagery to convey very deep thoughts. Thoreau was a "transcendentalist", a primary figure in a movement that sprang up in New England in the 1830s and 40s. Transcendentalists believed that institutions corrupted and slowly destroyed mankind. They rose up in particular against the Unitarian church that had taken over Harvard's philosophy in its Divinity school, as well as the intellectualism and haughty pride at that institution. They mistrusted political parties and all religious institutions as being corruptive to the purity of the essential goodness of man and nature.

We made it through 5 pages. And it took us over an hour. While I do not accept one of the premises of Thoreau, that mankind is at heart good, I do accept much of what he finds to be corrupting and desperate in humanity. I LOVE how he says the poor student will not understand a word he says, but for some, his writings will be a coat they can put on but be careful not to pull too much at the seams lest a good garment be destroyed. We discussed that wondrous metaphor for some time. And how about this lovely play of words- "we make ourselves sick that we may lay up against a sick day." Walden is a book tailor made for literary analysis!

And then we hit page 5 and one of Thoreau's most famous lines which I quoted at the start of this post. As Asherel read out loud, "...lives of quiet desperation", I glanced at my poor dog. She groaned a little as she tried to settle in her bed with the huge cone rattling around her head. The e-collar was there to keep her from ripping out her stitches. Since she had already ripped out one, we knew we could not leave the cone off for a second, except during her short walks while she recuperates. She never fights us as we slip the cone on. She submits with her mournful eyes gazing at us. Then she groans again, and thwacks the cone on the surrounding chairs and tables as she tries to find a comfortable place to lie down.

I do believe mankind...and currently Honeybun... lead lives of quiet desperation. King Solomon agreed in his famous line, "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. A chasing after the wind." I think we all stumble a little blindly, or with tunnel vision like my conehead dog, after things that are of no value, that in the end will never satisfy. I think quite often the purpose of life for many of us is just to make it through the day so we can start another one just like it. Or maybe to suffer through what we have to do so that we end up doing what we want to do, and find that even *that* leaves us wanting. Transcendentalists find meaning and purpose in simplicity and in nature. I would agree that is better than materialism. But I don't believe transcendentalists ultimately find worth in God. I might be wrong, so don't put that on your answer sheet during the test segment of this post. However, when I ask myself what is of ultimate value, of eternal worth, of any lasting purpose whatsoever...I find no answer outside of God. Everything else leads me on a path of quiet desperation.

"Amen," says Honeybun, shaking her cone head.

Psalm 91:14-16 (NIV)
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. [15] He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. ”

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. [20] But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

-save a dog-

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