Only Real When Shared

Autumn Jones - Real When Shared


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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2 thoughts on “Only Real When Shared”

  1. Pingback: S. S. P. X. Displays Its True Colors? -

  2. I really like your article Autumn. It’s funny you wrote about this because I finally got around to watching the film just recently because my oldest son kind of saw McCandless as a heroic figure, or martyr. After I watched it, I felt the same as you – that this guy was ultimately selfish in his quest to “prove” how all he needed was himself and Mother Nature. I’m not saying I don’t understand it (who among us hasn’t wanted to run away from it all?). However, I just found it tragic because, like you said, he walked away and created so much pain by choosing to do so. I told my son that I compared that film to the more recent “127 Hours,” which starred James Franco as Aron Ralston, who sets off on a hiking adventure without telling anyone where he was going. And as we know, he ended up stuck in a canyon, with his hand pinned by a boulder for 127 hours. He finally cut off his own hand with a pocket knife, rappelled back up with his one good hand, and was finally rescued. His mindset was the same as McCandless’ at first. But during his nightmare, he realized how selfish he was to do what he did, and recorded himself telling his family this, fully expecting to die at the time. I suppose the only difference between Ralston and McCandless is that one survived and the other did not, but I explained to my son that neither was a martyr. Rather they were victims of them selves and their pride which, by the way, is what causes ME to stumble more often than I care to admit. 🙂 Anyway, I really enjoyed your article!

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