Last week, over a few days (because I’m an easily distracted Millennial), I watched the film Into The Wild for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, pop it on your ‘to-watch’ list because it’s one of those films that’ll embed themselves into your being – in a really good way. It’s beautifully scripted with a nostalgic Pearl Jam soundtrack and a Big Journey plot that’ll make you want to burn all of your things and head out onto the open road immediately.
It’s based on a true story about a lad (Christopher McCandless) who, instead of going to law school and joining the factory line of middle class Americans with degrees, mortgages, estate cars and 2.5 well-behaved children, donates his $24,000 college fund to charity and hitchhikes his way around America with the idea of ending up in the Alaskan wilderness. This is where he’ll (he hopes) get to the root of what it really means to be alive.
Now, I’m not saying I know how it feels to be completely alone fending for myself in a merciless Alaskan tundra. I don’t. But I still relate to Christopher, as I’m sure many of you will too.
I too seek out and enjoy solitude in nature (although admittedly the South Downs are a little softer than the jagged, grizzly-inhabited mountains of North America). I too feel disillusioned by the silly ways we all live our lives – amassing debt, spending money and making ourselves miserable in order to keep up social appearances. Pandering to false desires planted by corporations that unscrupulously persuade us to buy their ‘solutions’ for our misshapen bodies/ugly faces/unhealthy hair/boring lives. Going to work every day for a greedy, corrupt Capitalist establishment that gobbles up Earth’s resources at a terrifying rate in order to line the pockets of a few obscenely rich psychopaths.
Most of us put up with this existence because the middle class life is comfortable. We don’t have to shoot the bolts into the brains of the animals we eat. We don’t have to see their blood. We get to watch films and stay warm and order pizza. This life really is a factory line, and I’m knowingly sitting on a conveyor belt while the world around me gets cruelly and wastfully destroyed in plain sight.
What’s the alternative?
Retreat to the wilderness. Hunt and forage. Feel all the elements. Risk a probably quite unpleasant death every day.
That’s what Christopher did, and he seemed to find happiness living at one with nature. But then, near the end of the film, he realises something. For all his experiences, all his discoveries and epiphanies, he has nobody to share it all with.
He escaped the Capitalist conveyor belt but in doing so he left everybody behind.
In the film he profoundly touched the lives of the people he met during his travels on his way to Alaska. Those fleeting connections he made with strangers changed their paths – and it’s the same for all of us. Every person we meet we change, no matter how imperceptibly – and they change us too.
Can we ever be content with only making ourselves happy? Isn’t the wonderful thing about being human our ability to convey our unique experiences through writing, music, art, friendship and love?
I wouldn’t be so happy in my solitude if I couldn’t write. I wouldn’t be so happy in my solitude if my loved ones weren’t a call or watsapp message away from me. The moments I spend alone marvelling some beautiful thing in nature are joyous in their own right but they are even more joyous when I can share them – when I can go home and write about them, or take a photo, or just have the person I love sitting next to me, taking it all in too.
Like most introverts, I’ll always cherish the moments spent alone, happily undisturbed. But in these moments alone, I’m collecting and gathering so that I have something to offer the world.
Ultimately, happiness is something we shouldn’t keep to ourselves. It’s important that we keep writing, keep chatting, keep offering our voices to the world. You may not always know it, but you are needed.
And that’s all I wanted to say this chilly Sunday evening. It’s time for bed now.