Last year I re-read the popular novel Into the Wild for one of my graduate classes. The book confronts adventure, solitude and the search for the existential. But, most importantly, it begs the reader to examine the role of relationships.
Chris McCandless, the main character, upon graduating from Emory University and after much success in academics and athletics, walks away from everything he ever knew. He donated the balance of his savings account, packed his car and headed north… all without telling anyone.
While I understand his need for adventure, I have a hard time accepting the way he abandoned all those who loved him. His parents lived in fear wondering why their son would just disappear. His sister waited anxiously for any sign of communication. The people he met along the way hoped for a postcard or phone call. Yet, he gave little. He hardly sent word to anyone, much less his family. He was completely immersed in his own mission.
I get it. I really do. I even see parts of myself in him. I understand the need for adventure and solitude. But I also know in a profound way that, if I were to completely disappear, it would greatly affect people around me. Further, if anyone I cared about walked away, out of this life, without so much as a note of explanation or a regular phone call, I would be devastated.
Sometimes, we get overwhelmed. We pull back from friendships, relationships and scenarios that challenge us. We figure we can sort it all out on our own. We can solve our own insecurities. We can, to use the cliché, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and just keep going.
But what if we are not meant to go it alone? What if we are meant to rely on other people, to depend on other people, to need other people? What does it mean for us to let them help us in our times of struggle, of heartbreak, of discernment, of searching? And what does it mean to share with them our joys, our loves, our passions, our dreams?
McCandless rejected others’ attempts to help him. He walked away from all those who loved him only to discover at life’s end that “Happiness [is] only real when shared,” as noted in his journal. But it was too late. He died within days of writing that very phrase.
Ultimately, this presents a question of vulnerability. Are we willing to be vulnerable, to show our weaknesses and to let someone in to help us? Are we willing to admit when times are tough, when we don’t have the answers, when we need a friend?
Given only a minute with McCandless, I would try with all my heart to remind him that life is not meant to be lived alone, that joys are meant to be shared and that our friends and our families exist to help hold us up in the moments when little else makes sense.
God, give us the humility to be vulnerable, the strength to help one another and the wisdom to seek out friends amidst our troubles.
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