"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
"I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls."
"I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my recovery. In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again."
(all quotes in this post were extracted from Walden).
Solitude. Simplicity. These famous concepts and epigrammatic phrases from Henry David Thoreau sounded strange for a junior in an American Lit class back in high school. These phrases were repeated over and over again, together with a bunch of others extracted from Walden. Thoreau´s book is one of those that is read but not fully understood by young readers. You either hate it or love it. However, the idea of living isolated by a lake for two years resonates as a little off the beaten path to most teenagers. And to Thoreau's neighbors as he describes in the book. I read the book for the first in 1987 and must confess that the ideas seemed much more adequate to the hippie culture than to the common mainstream. It is unthinkable for a teenager to consider solitude and simplicity in a society that rewards hard work and a fat paycheck at the end of the month.
Back in those years, you don’t think of solitude and silence as something positive. You want to belong to the group, to be part of the social happenings, you want to taste the marrow of life and live life to the fullest. When years pass, you start to value solitude, silence. These must not be confused with loneliness, which is involuntary. Solitude is a voluntary act, a decision to give yourself some time to reflect.
When I think back to Thoreau´s ideas, it scared me. Solitude and loneliness seem to be the same thing for a teenager with a full life ahead. Yes, I was scared of solitude.
A couple of years ago, talking to a dear friend, the question popped: what is your biggest fear? Solitude is one the most cited fears in all age groups, but when you dig deeper, you find that solitude is just a first step into a more profound situation. Loneliness comes right after solitude in the list. Since it is involuntary, one feels powerless when faced in this situation. I pointed out that one of the aspects of loneliness is the simple fact that you may be forgotten. Friends, family, acquaintances. Everyone simple forgets that you exist, wipes you off from their lives. It is almost like you are burned, destroyed, vaporized, like in Orwell´s 1984.
You can try to burn old memories to cure traumas or let the past go. You can try to incinerate little gifts, notes, photos, but you cannot destroy and forget the positive things and memories that the person has left with you. You can trample on a person´s deepest fear, use it in your favor, but you cannot destroy the good moments, the pleasure of the long conversations, the great effects of the smiles, the words, the caring, the embraces.
Good memories leave good feelings.
"As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."
Following Thoreau's phrase, as if you could kill memories with simply waiting for time to pass and the heart to quiet down. Good memories remain forever.
PS: Walden can be read at The Thoreau Reader.