Thoreau on the interconnectedness and meaning of life

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Umbrellas in the rain by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHow can severe disappointment provide meaning?

Sometimes when life disappoints us severely, it is hard to imagine what Viktor Frankl means when he says that people who survived the concentration camps expected it all to make sense in the end.

“How?”  we wail.  “How could that ever make sense?”

I suspect what we are crying is that “No, I won’t let it make sense.  Because to make it make sense is to say it is OK and I cannot say it OK that you killed my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my grandmother, my grandfather, my uncle, my aunt, my cousin.”

Possibly to have faith in the universe feels disloyalty and we prefer lack of faith to lack of loyalty.

Loyalty is a good thing and loyalty should be honored and celebrated.

Life is often unfair

But life does disappoint, in big ways and small.  Often we feel very profoundly that life is unfair.

I am not saying we should do nothing about unfairness.   Not me.

But the writers like Thoreau point us to another way forward.

First, look at the interconnections of the world.  See the whole picture. Loyalty is part of that picture.  Put it in.

Then, decide what you think.

Thoreau’s dilemma of a rain day

This is Thoreau writing about a rainy day at Walden when he elected to be a subsistence farmer so that he would have time to read and write.

His beans are important to him.   He became a farmer to have time, and the weather is throwing out his plans, challenging the very raison d’etre of his project.

He needs his beans too.  Otherwise he will starve.

But nonetheless he brings first the outlook of a contemporary quantum physicist.  Everything is connected. A rainy day may be disruptive; but it is not an insult thrown at us by the universe.

It is a invitation by the universe to bring ourselves into a more connected relationship with everything around us.

Thoreau on a rainy day

Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness.

While enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.

The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house to-day is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too.

Though it prevents me hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my hoeing.

If it should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the lowlands, it will be good for the grass of the uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me.

Sometimes, when I compare myself to other men, it seems as if I were more favoured by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of – as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded.  I do not flatter myself, but if it be possible they flatter me.

(p. 114 of the 1927 edition of Walden)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.