STOIC POETRY | My dead companions
I've formed a small association of companions Eric, of whom I know you would approve. Sadly, like you, they are all dead and I must therefore pass time with them in imagination rather than fact. These associates are some select authors who I have come to know through my reading. Writers who penned ideas which I admire, and who attempted to live well in spite of life. Who have endeavored to cultivate principles and objectives to use as guides to make better use of their time than the mere passage, filling, or killing of moments never to come 'round again. These men are Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson, Aurelius, and Seneca.
"You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind." -Seneca the Younger
First of all, Henry David Thoreau. For I knew him first. He was the hero of my youth and the first to introduce me to a way of life which was something more than living. The first to suggest and demonstrate that alternate paths of life could be enjoyed by those who are willing to make them. Perhaps he was also the first I saw walking alone along the thing which I would later call The Path of Wildness. Thoreau's classic title Walden Pond is where we first met and where I find him yet, always lingering by the shore, or walking towards the railroad to town in any season, mulling over what he sees, sharing his impressions of "the bravery of minks and muskrats." I have not only gone to the site of his cabin by the lake in my mind, but have been there in fact as well, and even swam fully across his pond lengthwise upon a warm summer day, thinking of the author and his two years, two months and two days living an experiment of simplicity on a west ridge of a pond reputably - like the author's imaginings - of unknown depth
Next came Nathaniel Hawthorne who I met much later in my life - during the decade of my fifties. How unfortunate that I went so long between such new literary associates - so much time between Thoreau and Hawthorne. This fact is testament to how easily we may be distracted by life; how fully our effort of living can take the place of how we might otherwise better choose to live. But I did at last discover Hawthorne's words in his book, The House of the Seven Gables. And I have been to his home too, and his grave, and have seen the garden which Thoreau made for him as a wedding gift. In this small way I have enjoyed the association of this author, though our lives are separated by more time than a century and more distance than a continent apart.
After Hawthorne came Ralph Waldo Emerson, though I knew of this author by way of Thoreau. As it was Emerson's land at Walden Pond where Thoreau lived. And it was the example and association with the older man which served as Thoreau's model in living a better and more deliberate life. However, I did not actually come to discover Emerson better until my fifties, after I had returned home to the USA from my life in Japan and was living alone for a time while waiting for my family to join me. Maybe I needed those decades of dedication to work, family, and community to prepare myself to read and understand what Emerson had to say, particularly in his essay Self-Reliance? Perhaps that time was necessary to become ready to do more than simply read what Emerson had to share.
Next came Marcus Aurelius, an emperor of Rome, none other than the true philosopher king which Plato had envisioned for the world, a ruler who himself was governed by principle and guided by reason. The type of leader who so rarely rises to show us a better way through not only their words, but also their example. This author's Mediations came to me across millennia of time. Ideas which struck my mind so soundly as to startle me awake during the onset of mid-life's late afternoon slumber. Ideas so firm as to summon me back to a more deliberate and earnest life, as well as the pursuit of some better living than to merely fade away into old age.
Lastly, Seneca the Younger. Oh, how I wish that I had discovered this man sooner! What a difference his words and example may have made to me if I had experienced them at age seventeen rather than age fifty-seven. In particular, this author's moral letters to his friend Lucilius are an example and an illustration of Stoic principles well considered and put into practice. Like the authors who I listed before, I will read, and re-read, Seneca's words often in the little time that remains to me.
And so, Eric, these are a few of the companions whom I found over the last six decades of life. Individuals who took time not only to strive to live well, but to write about their ideas and experience for the benefit of those to come. Maybe my association with them has helped me find my own way. Maybe I can as yet learn more if only I can bolster my resolve and determination to not take these fleeting days of opportunity for granted and make better use of the brief time that remains. Unlike you Eric I still live! Though soon enough I will join you in that nowhere place of nothing. But until then, I will turn to something, and the better something distilled of the well-lived lives of those who came before.
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.