Into the Wild: A Personal Symbolism of My Pursuit of the Joy of Life
On the day that my travel companion of the past three months left Bangkok to return home to the U.S., an action that officially marks the end of this chapter of my life, I was left behind feeling ethereal and somewhat alone. For almost half a year, I have spent the majority of my waking hours in the company of one of my best friends. We’ve been living as roommates, working at the same job and lastly, three months of traveling through Southeast Asia. It has been, with no doubt in mind, an adventure that belongs on the highest shelf of the bookcase of my life. The imminent change had been a shadow of bittersweet shades covering me with contradicting emotions. I was eager for this journey to end knowing that it instantaneously kick-starts a new one, both for him and myself. Though there was a hollow sadness in my heart at the thought that he would no longer be there to share new moments with. After arriving back at my friend’s home, where the two of us had stayed the past 3 weeks, I was driven by a quiet curiosity to take a peek in his room. I saw the empty room in my mind before I even opened the door. But for a moment, I allowed myself to imagine that he’d be inside, lying on the bed with a book in his hand.
But there was no one there, only a few random objects strewn about. There was a souvenir shirt one size too small, a packet of multi-vitamins, empty bottles of water, and scraps of paper. It was a familiar feeling that overcame me as I stood in the room observing the stillness and vacancy of it all, a feeling of completion. The kind of emotion that is felt at the glance of an empty room at the end of moving day, when all the boxes are taped up and the last painting taken down.
It was over. The journey has ended, and I am on my own.
I saw it on the dresser amidst several other insignificant objects. It’s surprising presence slightly unsettling as I wondered how he could have left it behind. I had just returned it to him this morning, keeping it in my possession days after I had finished reading it, if not to flip through my favourite passages then to simply have it close at hand almost willing it to inspire me. His copy of Into the Wild sat eagerly underneath a torn page of his notebook that screamed “Joya!” Inside of which, told me that “There’s always more to read… so read on! ! & Take Care. “
I almost laughed out loud because there was nothing more perfect that he could have left behind for me, and I almost laughed because I had not expected it when I should have.
It would be factitious for me to claim that the book had changed me somehow, because it had not. To say that the adventures of Chris McCandless and his reckless but undeniably admirable will of being stirred awake the adventurous spirit that lied within me, would be untrue. At this point, my adventurous and insatiable soul has been roaring loudly for years. What Into the Wild has done for me, is simply remind me that I am not alone in how I feel. I discovered, though I should have already known, that there are many others who seek out and sometimes find the illumination of a life lived on the fringe. In my case, it is easy to forget that I am not as crazy as others have helpfully informed me. I know of only one other person who sometimes feels the way I do, and even he does not reflect the zeal that I possess. I often live a life that teeters between that of a life within a society and one that lies outside of it, a life that gives me the feeling of an outsider in either scenario. However, the comfort of belonging to a society is that there are many others that do as well, so that when I am a citizen I hardly ever need convincing that everything is right with the world. On the other hand, vagabonds are fundamentally loners that in seeking a kind of Vagabond Anonymous for a sense of community lay a paradox, therefore I have no one to tell me that what I feel is not as extraordinary as it seems. But because I am still in between both worlds, and have not yet dared to choose one side, I usually feel wrong for wanting what’s out there. Try as they might, friends and family always fail at understanding my desire. I expect that they believe I am simply going through a phase and it would not be too long before I file for my 401-k and put a down payment on a quaint little house with white shutters and white fences on Pearl Street.
Irrespective of what the future holds, of which path I will have end up taking, I am not mistaken that what I want and what I wish my future to be is to wander for as long as I can help it. The fate of Chris McCandless has created an immense ideal that of an eternal wanderer. Had he not passed away in the middle of his exodus, he might have just returned from it with volumes of story to tell but only to go on to re-join the world he left behind. He would then not be so different from the very author that wrote his story and immortalized him forever as a supertramp. Jon Krakauer, a writer whose own life is full of achievements and unimaginable feats but would never be the legend that Chris had become because he is absolutely and will always be part of the world. The very essence of Chris McCandless is in his success of never being able to become anything other than the wanderer he had wanted to be.
Nothing more would make me feel satisfied than looking back at the end of it all and seeing a life lived moving through the world, living through the world. It would be a delight if I succeed in spending my years scattered about between Buenos Aires, Caracas, San Sebastian, Nice, Paris, Munich, Marrakesh, Tuscany, Borneo, Bangkok, Sydney, Dakar, perhaps even Tokyo. Most of those closest to me believe that I will soon tire, that I couldn’t possibly want to do this for so long. That they insist I give them an answer to the question of where in the world would I settle. When I am ready, when money is not a factor, when I desire a partner, and children, when my adventurous spirit is ready to rest, where in the world do I stop. Always in my mind, I wonder, why do I have to stop? But I answer, out loud, an arbitrary city that I love and could see myself possibly considering to make my home, but even thinking of it feels forced. Thinking of settling down and stopping feels more of an obligation to appease others and something I don’t think I have the tiniest aspiration for. Sure, I could live and settle in New York maybe, or Medellin. I can get a job, continue on my career, and get promotions and yearly bonuses. I’m enough of a positive person that anywhere I go; either path I choose would keep me happy. I can live a nice life, with a nice man, in a nice city, raise pleasant children, and go on fun vacations and I would do it all with a genuine smile in my heart because life is always about The Road Not Taken. Though that is not the life I would chase after with all that I have. I see that life simply as an acceptable possibility, but only after I have already tired of running down the road less travelled.
Chris McCandless lived his dream, and he never left it. He remains to me an ultimate success. Though I do not want an early end, nor am I grateful that he perished, I am grateful that he lived his dream. He proved to himself and to the world that “the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” He taught us that we ought to live or die trying. He, like many of my heroes, allows me to believe that I am not foolish for pursuing my dreams, however different they may be. At the final leg of this journey, I end it with Chris McCandless in my company. The book is aged, and the signs of being well-read are obvious. It was bought for 75 cents, the price pencilled in on the top right corner of its first page, right above a photograph of Chris McCandless leaning against the infamous Fairbanks City Bus 142. Someone who now resides in Denmark had bought it a long time ago, and it was handed down to my friend and travel companion who brought the book with him as we travelled through Southeast Asia. It was a book that I borrowed and read up with thunderous desire on a bus from Bangkok en route to Chiang Mai. It is a book, with stories, and characters that will now accompany me in my own journey in the absence of my friend, who is finally on his way home. Through a thoughtful gift, I am not alone after all.