“In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself.
“Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter…”
— Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
These are the words on the front of the book, Into the Wild. This introduction brought me in, but the book as a whole troubled me. I read it in a couple of weeks and I was moved and thought more of the nature of humans than I have in a long time. This month was Philosophy month in Praxis, so the fact that I read such a book is fitting.
I didn’t know what to think half the time as I read it. I don’t have the allure to the wild Chris felt, nor do I have the desire to travel like a vagabond. But mostly, I kept running into this problem: He left his family. He left his family, dropped them, never spoke to them again.
And the next they heard about him was when he was found dead.
As I closed the book for the last time this past weekend, I wrote down the thoughts running through my mind. I think it puts this book into a nice perspective.
Here are those notes.
There is nothing wrong with a need to let go of civilization. Leaving the homes, the offices, the streets, and cars — none of this is wrong. Some people are drawn into the wild, but it does not draw them wild. Yes, we consider them as a different breed than us, but what if they’ve only found that’s the way out? How many of us need to escape our mundane lives, the problems we face, and wish to disappear? And when you take the time to break away, and come back later, perhaps you have a clearer mind and can find things to be not as bad off as they seemed.
This I think is what Chris was looking for. He was so torn up by the world, its hardships, the lack of morality. It made him angry. But he wasn’t the type to lecture others. He found the best thing for him was to leave all of it for a time and find himself.
And when he disappeared, only with his thoughts around, he not only found himself but found within a desire for companionship.
After we’ve decided to leave, once we come back, we find we miss those we love most.
We do this. So is it so strange that one man decided the only way he could escape was into the wild? And is that such a bad thing?
There is nothing wrong with what he did. I wish, for his sake and those of who loved him, that he had gone better prepared. But the folly of youth is to jump out into the sky and only wonder on the way down whether your wings still work.
It is folly. Indeed, he was foolish. But he did what he had to do. He had to escape in some way and that I can admire. He made mistakes along the way with how he left, but perhaps if he had survived, he would’ve righted them. Let’s not be too quick to judge those we do not know.
That being said:
He did not deal with his family as he ought. That is the main thing that angers me. You do not drop off the face of the earth and not inform your parents and siblings. You do not let them go because you believe all that you need is yourself and yourself is sufficient.
You are not sufficient alone. We were not made to be on our own. The other humans around us are there to instruct us, challenge us, encourage us, stretch and show us that which we did not know before.
And I think this was Chris’s problem:
He could not see the wisdom of others.
The only sense he saw in others was folly. And because others are foolish, that, therefore, made him the wise one.
It is impressive he lasted as long as he did, going into the wild as he did. That means he was not as ill-prepared as others think. He had no intention of dying. And based on his last few journal entries, he had all intentions of living again with others. But he never got the chance. I am sad to see this ending because maybe the misfortune of his life could have been made right.
This book comes as an encouragement. There are those who have a wildness in them and can only gain control of it when they’re out in the wild. And that is no wrong.
But it is also a caution: do not think that is all you have.
There are those that love you. There are those flawed humans around you who can make you a better person. And you need them.
So don’t give up on them and disappear. I beg you. Let yourself be wild if you need it, but do not let it overtake you and cloud your senses.
And always make sure you can return to us, in one piece and whole.