“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Thoreau, from Walden
About a half hour before my tenth grade classes began last Tuesday, I made a change of plans. It was beautiful outside, very above average temperatures for the first day of November, and likely one of the last warm days of 2011. So, together with our notebooks and pencils, we trudged to Dry Run Creek, and I encouraged the students to spread out on their own bed of sunshine and just write.
It was the perfect way to begin our next unit of study, a unit on the 19th Century Transcendentalist philosophy. Transcendentalism was a philosophy and literary movement coined by famous authors like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. This philosophy sent an unsettled Thoreau to seek solitude deep in the woods on Walden Pond, hoping to find a refuge and a better sense of self by escaping the constraints, distractions, and schedules of our society. It was a quest for the simple things, a hunt for the self in a very clouded society, and an attempt to strip life down to the bare essentials and see what it had to offer. It was a quest to be deliberate, to be present in this life that is full of so much beauty.
Unfortunately, our world seems to equate success and happiness with abundance, excess, and material possessions. And it's a challenge to not get caught up in the mix. It's what Annie Dillard refers to as 'poverty:' It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.
I want to strive to live this way. I want to learn to let go of the material stresses of day to day life and live deliberately. I want to be fully aware of my surroundings, and cultivate the kind of lifestyle that has time to notice the various 'pennies' that fill our world. It's what Kelle Hampton calls: 'the ever present existence of the awareness of good.' It's there, all the time, it just takes a whole new kind of seeing.
Last weekend, I was stressed. I felt I had a million things to do, and when Beau suggested we take off and go explore our city's nature reserve, my first thought was one of doubt. But, I went because I love my boys. And the longer we explored and played and threw piles of leaves in the air, the more stress slipped away.
There were pennies everywhere.
There was the white tail of the deer that stood out like a sore thumb against the palette of rusts and tans and burnt orange. There was the thick layer of leaves that felt like carpet under our feet, and the many textures of plant life that created one giant touch-and-feel book for Cruz to explore.
There was the look of my sweet boy with his hoodie on...
...and the numerous and generous wet kisses he'd supply on demand.
There was the sight of our boy on Beau's shoulders, an image that still gets caught in my throat...
...and the sweet way he kept leaning down to say, 'hi' to his daddy.
These are the moments that life is really all about. I just wish it were enough.
Since Saturday, I've longed for more days like these. Days that allow us to escape and live deliberately, to suck the marrow out of this life. I think in order to cultivate this lifestyle, one must be deliberate and forceful about making these moments happen. My goal for November, and December, and 2012 while we are at it, is to be more aware, more deliberate, and more intentional about noticing the pennies in our world. It's a happy existence- one I would love to instill in my babes.