“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. Wherever a man separates from the multitude and goes his own way, there is a fork in the road, though the travelers along the highway see only a gap in the paling.”-Henry David Thoreau, Journal (October 18, 1855)
Some months ago I made public my intentions of stepping down from my position as Technology Director for Mill Grove UMC to likely return to school, but in a new direction. As seven months have passed and I haven’t gone anywhere, numerous people have approached me trying to figure out what happened. My simple answer? A lot.
Around the same time I started to consider my departure, Mill Grove underwent broad leadership changes. As I came to feel a personal responsibility to help them as much as I could, my stay was extended.
Shortly after, we also started preparing to sell our house after my father’s passing at the end of 2016. As a do-it-yourself family, this in truth became my full-time job for the last half of 2017. We also simultaneously closed on a new house over 20 miles away but didn’t move in until a month later, all while commuting and continuing to work on the old house during and after the lengthy move. There’s no time to train new people and lose income while you’re painting, repairing, packing, selling, dumping, and moving mountains of inherited furniture and collections. And so, my stay was extended.
But now I’m running out of excuses and “extenuating circumstances,” and I still don’t truly have a solid plan in place. Yet I am certain of one thing: what joy there was for me in such technological immersion is gone. I find myself stressed by every ding of my phone. I can’t focus for the distractions of the screens around me (indeed, even writing this has been a struggle). I feel tethered and restricted, despite having all the wonders of the world within my virtual reach. Something must change. For me, what must change is my focus.
For some time, I made the claim that despite my skills and interests in technology, I could likely drop it in a moment and not look back. The past few years have very nearly convinced me that that claim is sound. My peace and happiness – my purpose – lies elsewhere, quite separated from the maelstrom of endless technology and Pavlovian bells and whistles.
On a more personal level, I’ve begun to realize that I am a fundamentally restless person. I don’t necessarily mean in a physical sense, but also intellectually, philosophically. Fate and upbringing made me a student of many different disciplines, which has made finding my “narrow and crooked” path frustrating. I was finding myself lost and stumbling about, never getting any closer to anything that felt like my purpose. I am convinced of a great healing power in nature, though, and at a time in my past when it felt as though I was losing everything, two days alone in a silent, foggy woods restored my soul. Thus, nature has become my true sanctum sanctorum. Looking back to those times of reflection and silence, I’ve at last started to envision my “gap in the paling.”
“I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Through all my contemplation the past few years, I am ever more certain that pursuing a vastly simpler life – a more “minimalist” life – somehow tied to nature, focused on personal experience, and away from the chaos and strife that is so ingrained in our modern lives will be that forked path in which I can “walk with love and reverence.” My desire for the parade of gadgets and material things our consumerist society waves in front of us hundreds of times a day has largely evaporated. I want to continue to bring some beauty into this troubled world through my music and photography, but without the distractions and endless stress encouraged by our society. The traditional “American Dream” that exists for most simply is not my own. To just exist within this world and never truly experience it seems like such a tragic tale. Looking back, the primacy of experience has really been a factor in my photography for years. I have passed on many a shot in favor of appreciating the moment, and it’s why I came back from a two-week, 7,000-mile trip and published just 23 images. I think it’s long past time I applied that same philosophy to my life.
What will this simpler life look like? Honestly, I’m not sure. I think that discovery will become a part of the adventure in a way. I do know that it will require a tremendous leap of faith – maybe even several. So long as I can supply my basic needs and throw a bit toward my passions of music and photography, I will have considered this grand adventure a success. I have no delusions that any of this will be easy or without struggle, but how many lives truly are? I do not fear what challenges lie ahead if it means finding my purpose, my peace, my happiness.
And so, the next months will see me finally acting on what I said I would do last summer. I’ll then spend a little time getting things stabilized for myself, and ultimately start looking for that limb to step out on.