Saturday, May 05, 2007

How To Die a Hero's Death

Trevor Sheehy died a hero’s death. Faced with inoperable cancer, he passed on Nov 22 of last year.

He died with as much courage as he lived. He had wandered the whole earth in a career of pure adventuring that spanned three decades. In the last year of his life he lived on the exotic island of Zanzibar and in the Australian back country of Kakkidu.

When colon cancer metastasised, he returned to Oregon to die at a time and place of his choosing. Utilizing that state’s assisted suicide law he acquired a killing dose of barbiturates. He continued to enjoy his life and friends until he decided his moment had come. Assembling family and friends he said "its been great. but its time to go." As he ate the fatal applesauce, he joked that this desert would not likely catch on. In just moments he lay down and died. That’s how a hero dies. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered on Moro Bay, Ca.

I had the pleasure of Trevor’s company for a few years as we traveled and camped in the West. He confronted the mystery of existence with faith and not belief, rejecting the onerous doctrines of conventional religion. In a final conversation with me he said he didn’t know what, if anything lay on the "other side," but he was going there willingly and without fear. That’s a hero’s death!

No one ever described it better than William Cullan Bryant in the final words of "Thanatopsis."

"So live–that when thy summons comes to join the innumerable caravan that moves to that mysterious realm where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death—that thou go not like a quarry slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, but soothed and sustained and with an unfaltering trust approach thy grave—as one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams."

The picture is of Trevor, Diana and I hiking in Zion in May 2000.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Henry David Thoreau: The World's Most Famous Kodger

Here is a reproduction of his famous cabin and a statue of him on the shores of the pond he loved.

His classic book Walden, published in 1854 is probably in every major library in the world. It was the big influence in my path to freedom. I was never the same after reading the first chapter entitled “Economy.”

Living in a time when people literally worked themselves to death, he refused! He built himself a small cabin in the woods by Walden pond and embarked on a grand experiment: to see how little a man could work and still earn a living. The answer: six weeks of work a year would do it. By living simply and efficiently, he could enjoy himself the remainder of the year. He declared that he wanted a wide margin to his life, spending his free time writing, fishing, walking, talking etc. He floated down the Merrimack River in a small boat just for fun. He once walked to Maine and later to Minnesota.

Leisure allows and perhaps stimulates creativity. He wrote an essay that changed the world: “ On Civil disobedience.” Ghandi and Martin Luther King gave credit to Thoreau for their strategy.

I believe that all of us can learn to live more efficiently, clearing enough space in our lives to follow our dreams.

An unintended side effect of doing so will be to inspire others to follow their dreams. Here’s a few quotes from his marvelous book:

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anyone else I knew as well.”

“Everywhere, in shops and offices and fields people appear to me to be doing pennance in a thousand remarkable ways.”

“How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life pushing before it a barn seventy five feet by forty.”

“Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?”

“Men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed in the soil for compost.”

“It is a fools life as they will find when they get to the end of it.”

“Most men are so occupied with the fractious cares and superfluously course labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.”

“The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

“We carefully set our traps to catch the good life, then turn around and find ourselves caught in our own traps.”

“Things are more easily gotten than gotten rid of.”

“I count a man rich, not by how much he can afford to own, but by how much he can afford to leave alone.”

“I count the cost of a thing not in dollars and cents, but in how much of my life I must give up to own it.”

“Life is best viewed from the vantage point of voluntary poverty.

“What mean and sneaking lives many of you live, always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt, a very ancient slough, making yourself sick that you may lay up something against a sick day.”

“It is hard to have a southern overseer; It is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave driver of yourself.

“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of
himself’ that it is that determines his fate.”

“Advance confidently in the direction of your dreams and you will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Let the night overtake you everywhere at home.”

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it, do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The faultfinders will find fault even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours even in a poorhouse.”

“I left the woods for as good a reason as I came. I had several more lives to lead and could not spare any more time for this one.”