“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I come in tonight from my walk, sweating and breathless, plagued by an unmet need. I am hungry.
Not for food. Whatever trials my life might include, I have never faced physical hunger of any significance. And, barring circumstances most unforeseen, I am not likely to know such hunger in the future. I will almost certainly always have a solid roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my plate.
Nor do I hunger for love. I’ve that in plenty. It is this, the affection of family and friends in abundance, which assures me that I’ll never starve or want for a place to lay my head.
And I certainly do not hunger for money. That isn’t to say that an extra dollar would come amiss—like most everyone else, we’ve loans to repay and future college tuition and orthodontics to fund—but ours are distinctly “first world problems.” If one is fed and sheltered and has a family in good health, then worry over money seems to me a touch obscene.
No, I hunger instead for something else. Something soul-deep and eternal. Not The Divine, though I suspect it’s most likely there if anywhere. To call it nature is trite and insufficient, and yet it is, I think, the best I’ve got. I hunger for places and things untouched. For the ancient and sustaining. For a breath of air and space that knows not the whir of machines or the stain of civilization. For the sense that I am not merely in a space, but of it.
I get a shadow of this on my walks. Though I move through a suburban neighborhood, on streets paved by machines, under electric lights and wiring, wearing shoes made of colorful plastics and foams, I am a part of the earth. I can almost imagine that this virgin space for which I hunger is only just out of reach, another realm layered over this one like a fine mist.
This mist hung cold and almost corporeal as I walked tonight. The moon was full, or very near, and it cast everything around me in crisp, blue twilight. I dissolved into the landscape, no more substantial than the mist that filled my lungs and chilled the sweat on my skin. I ceased to breathe and merely expanded, unbound for a time by either flesh or gravity. I simply was.
Thoreau set out to strip life to its bones, to remove not only the window dressing but the panes themselves, and lay bare the human experience. His is an exercise that bears repeating. It is only when we remove the countless layers of excess and worry and obligation that separate us from the marrow of life that we might find our place in it.
As I walk in the dark, the world mostly silent and sleeping around me, I am able to tune out enough, to strip away just enough of these layers to see the promise of whatever lay at life’s core. I am not close enough yet to suck the marrow, but in the blue light of the moon, I can see glimpses of bone. And I am determined.