Thursday, April 03, 2008

Living a Wild Life

I recently read a book called “Into the Wild” about a young man named Chris McCandless who graduates from college and his whole goal in life is to escape the realities of life and live off the land in Alaska. I realized a lot of things after I watched this movie and I think we can all learn a few things from what Chris McCandless taught us by really living his life.

Chris was raised in an East Coast upper-middle class family and had plenty of money to attend college and even enough money saved up after college to attend law school with a little help from his parents. Chris drove an old Datsun. Sure it had a little rust and a lot of miles, but it always started and always got him where he needed to go. His parents offered to buy him a new car as a graduation gift. He responded, “Why would I want a new car? The Datsun runs great. Are you worried about what the neighbors might think? I don’t need a new car. I don’t need anything.” Our life isn’t defined by what we have or what kind of car we drive. It’s about who we are as people and what we make of our lives.

Before Chris headed up to Alaska he took his Datsun and headed west, set out on a great adventure. Before he left he donated his entire life savings to a charity, he cut up his drivers license, birth certificate, and social security card. He even burned the last of his cash. You see, Chris didn’t want people to judge him by where he was from or how much money he had. He made his own identity, befriending people as he met them, earning their trust and respect.

At one point in the movie Chris was eating an apple and talking to it. Sure that seems a little weird but what he was saying to the apple wasn’t weird at all. He said, “You’re really good, you’re like 1000 times better than any apple I’ve ever had. You’re so tasty, so organic and natural, you’re the apple of my eye.” Chris appreciated the small things in life. Something as simple as a good apple was the highlight of his day. I think we should learn to appreciate the small things in our life.

Chris met a lot of good people along his journey and was camping with a big group. He had met a young girl and they were really hitting it off. They had fun swimming together, reading poetry to one another, and playing music with each other. One day while the girl’s parents had run into town, she invited Chris over to her RV to be “intimate” with her. He said that he couldn’t do that because of the consequences that he might have to pay. Chris was responsible. He did the right thing, even when nobody else was watching.

One of the last people he met was an older gentleman named Ron Franz. The last of Ron’s family had been killed by a drunk driver so he brought Chris into his home and treated him like the grandson he never had. Ron stuck close to home despite Chris’ attempts to encourage him to travel. Chris brought him to a hill that the two had attempted to climb in the past. Ron was sitting at the bottom of the hill while Chris had climbed to the top. The two were talking about Chris’ trip to Alaska when Ron asked, “What are you running from?” Chris responded, “You know, I could ask you the same question. You gotta get back out in the world Ron. Get out of that lonely house. You’re going to live a long time. You should make a radical change in your lifestyle. The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences and there you are, sitting on your butt.” This inspired Ron to get off his butt and climb up to the top of the hill, once he reached the top, he realized what he had been missing. We need to get off our butts, get out of our routine, and realize what we’ve been missing.

The two of them were sitting at the top of the hill talking about life when Ron told Chris something that I thought was very insightful. He said, “When you forgive, you love, and when you love, God’s light shines on you.” We all need to be able to forgive one another so that we can love each other and let God’s light shine.

Chris finally made his way up to Alaska and started living in an old broken down bus, deep in the Yukon Territory. He made this bus his home for over 100 days. He survived on a big bag of rice that he had brought and an occasional squirrel that he killed with his rifle. Eventually though, he ran out of rice and wasn’t able to kill any animals. Then he accidentally ate a poisonous plant that led him to starve to death. On one of his last days, before he went out to collect berries, he posted a plea for assistance on the bus in the unlikely event that someone might come upon the bus. He wrote: S.O.S. I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE. I AM ALL ALONE, THIS IS NO JOKE, IN THE NAME OF GOD, PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME. Sometimes in life, you need to reach out to others for help.

Unfortunately, no one came upon Chris until about two weeks after his death. However, he died after achieving his lifelong goal, living alone in the wilderness of Alaska. What’s more important I think is what he learned, and taught others about life along the way. Chris learned that life is truly a journey, not a destination. He changed many lives and left a legacy that can truly be admired. One of the last things that I think we can all appreciate is something Chris inscribed on a piece of wood found on the bus: HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.