On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau “declared his own independence” and retreated for more than two years to a cabin in the woods on Walden Pond just outside Concord, Mass.
When I read his Walden in 11th grade, it changed my view of life and the world.
The reasons Thoreau gave for moving to the woods were that he wished to liberate himself from not only distractions but also comforts and routines that often seem to imprison us. He believed that too often our lives are “frittered away by detail.”
Thoreau wanted to pursue a life of simplicity and honesty, to get to actually know himself. While living in the woods, he gardened and wrote and sometimes walked a mile and a half into the village to see family and friends. But most of all, he thought.
It’s easier to allow society to do the thinking for us – to tell us what to wear, what to stand for, even what to believe in. But we can’t be true to our own natures if we never get to know our authentic selves.
Some may argue, rightfully, that we don’t all have the luxury to go into the woods for self reflection. Thoreau was not married and did not have a family to support. Being responsible for others, holding jobs, and paying bills often complicates the opportunity for gaining self knowledge.
The good news is that even if we can’t live so simply and deliberately ourselves, we can learn from Thoreau’s epiphanies and we can search our own souls.
Thoreau valued liberty, the kind that sometimes involves civil disobedience. He went to jail once for refusing to pay a tax he considered immoral. He also valued what he called “Higher Laws,” the spiritual ones as opposed to man-made ones.
My bedroom walls were decorated with quotes from Thoreau when I was a teenager. On July 4, we celebrate our country’s independence, but let’s also consider our personal liberty to know and be ourselves.
“For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself.” (Henry David Thoreau)
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Happy July 4.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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