Some people have a resume so long, it puts the rest of us to shame.
Henry David Thoreau was a lot of things I am not. An author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, surveyor, historian and probably a whole lot of other things. He did it all in just forty-four years, and seemed to do everything, from writing philosophy to trekking through Maine, with great purpose. He said it himself, he desired to live deliberately and today, he is still considered to be a role model for gentlemen of rugged and simple aspirations.
Thoreau’s life was not an accident. He was a man who knew how to get around and not waste time. I admire that a man who lived a relatively short life could take the time to keep a two million word journal over twenty-four years, yet find the time to accomplish all of the other matters which interested him. Here I am, at thirty-one, thinking I don’t have time to live deliberately!
It doesn’t seem to me that a man who accomplishes so much in a mere four decades spends much of his time wishing that he had more time. I don’t see great men wishing for some bygone era, or living in the “glory days” of their youth, or pining for the “good old days” (which never seemed as good when they were new.) What fascinates me about men like Thoreau is their constant and continual thirst for new, rather than the old. Here was a man who never got tired of seeing new things, gaining new knowledge, having new insights, experiencing new joys. He seemed to have little need for the past, other than to learn from it. For him, the future was always more interesting than what has already been.
For a man as reflective as Thoreau, it seems funny that he would tell people to stop living in the past, stop wishing for our “old days” back, stop trying to make things they way they used to be.
There are a lot of people who are obsessed with what used to be (or how they imagine it used to be). And I suppose we can tag along with them and dream.
But the thing about wishing for the past is that those wishes never come true.