Take a Lesson From Thoreau


Morgan Goldberg

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March 13, 2020. My last day of in person learning as a high-school student. After this date much of the world retreated into homes, into puzzles, into the spaces of the web where trends reside, into the dark corners of isolation. In searching for silver linings to the seemingly relentless onslaught of bad news I discovered how ideal, if ever a statement could be made, the timing was for a pandemic. The snow had begun to melt away and reveal a vibrant spring that shouted at those glued to Netflix that there was an alternative, a safe way to feel human. I believe we all found solace in the brief moments outside catching our breath and being reminded that there is normalcy, for the birds are still singing and the sun is still setting ever so peacefully over the Earth. 

The spring's hottest activity was going on walks with those who were considered to be in your contamination “bubble”. I recall uncovering new streets and neighborhoods in my suburban area that could be arranged in any order to create a long walk to occupy the time. However, spending time outside this spring and summer was not just simply to pass time as we wait for the divine green light to return back to bustling lives of work, birthdays, vacations, and other now more important markers of the happiness that can be felt in life. Spending hours outside was a way to cleanse ourselves from the tumultuous news cycles soberly sharing statistics of the virus' impact.  

I suppose we all learned how to appreciate the little moments. I suppose artists see the world similarly. Consider the minute topics that have been spun by craftsmen and craftswomen into flowing prose, motifs, poems, and songs. The onset of quarantine was a collective moment for the world to pause, breathe, and mourn the destruction before motivating to problem solve in order to return to those relationships we deemed essential to humanity. 

Similarly, the transcendentalist movement was a return to the natural state of living which prompted increased appreciation for the Earth and all of her beings we are connected to. This more contemporary philosophical movement is most commonly associated with greats such as Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Fuller originating in New England. The foundational principles of the transcendentalists are free-thinking, self-reliance, individual growth proportional to natural growth, the unity of spirit and nature, and civil disobedience. It is astonishing to see the parallels between these values derived from a movement founded in the nineteenth century and the global issues we are confronted with presently. For example, when there is only a handful of essential business at one's reach they must become more reliant on themselves to make informed choices for preservation. The success of mandates and rules regarding interactions has been mirrored by the season, for in the spring when there were ample opportunities to use the outdoors to social distance and cases were being regulated but as are entering the colder months where such options are not as feasible poor choices are being made proportional to increases in cases. In regards to spirituality, many congregations and organizations found themselves partaking in modified religious practices oftentimes outside for safety which additionally created unique experiences to blend the words of holy texts, often riddled with natural allusions, and an outdoor space for observance. Most importantly, we have taken the collective moment of pause without distraction from life's normal tempo to honor the transcendentalist value of civil disobedience as means to enact change. 

While tucked away in the woods of Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau contemplated, much like his northern philosophical contemporaries, slavery or the instiutionalized race-based structure of his country. The citizens of 2020 have considered the existence of similar prnotionsinciples within the United States and taken out the bookmark to continue writing the story of how we as a nation combat the ills that plague us. The coronavirus has forced us to determine necessity and in the gaps take time to evaluate pressing principles as the current state of the world is grim. 

Thoreau famously states in his book Walden that he “went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.” In these trying times I suppose I could say that I went on a walk because I wished to love deliberately, to take leave from my desk, and see if I could learn something more than statistics, learn from mother nature's beauty, learn the exhilaration of life by feeling the warm breeze on my skin or crisp air in my lungs, learn the connection of nature from picking fruit off the vine, and not, when I return to normal, discover that I had idled when my actions, my wearing of a mask, my vote, my voice, could matter. I do not wish to live what is not life for living is so dear.