Lessons from Henry David Thoreau

Walden, A Life in the Woods, is Henry David Thoreau’s reflections on nature and human experience, lessons harvested in his two years, two months, and two View of a lake, with woods on the shore acrossdays building and living in a cabin on a lake.

I’ve struggled with his story – a man of privilege making arrangements with a wealthy friend, distancing himself from society except when it benefited him. (He writes more of self-reliance than of his family and friends delivering baskets of clean laundry and baked goods…)

A piece of context is often lost – Thoreau took on this project soon after his beloved brother died in his arms. Thoreau was grieving, deeply, and unsure what should come next in his life. Could he step into his family’s expectations?

And now, of course, we’re living in a pandemic. Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from Henry David-

  • Accept help and support from your wider circle – long conversations, muffins, a hand-crafted face mask!
  • Consider what you truly need, and what is required to obtain the things you want. We make deliberate choices of how best to live our values, as we navigate this pandemic AND consider the post-pandemic world we seek to build
  • Read when you can – Thoreau would point to classical literature, but whatever lets you see the world through new eyes.
  • Keep a journal to jot down what is interesting, what does give you joy. This is a hard, hard time- and yet the world still contains watermelon and humor and squirrel obstacle courses.

May each of us find insights, joy, and the correct measure of solitude this month-
Katy Carpman
Director of Religious Education