In August, we bring a set of new full-time writers to the blog. Covering the 11th of each month, please welcome Lauren Cole (’20). Lauren graduated with a major in English and minors in French and psychology. She grew up in Grand Rapids and wants to live as she wants to die—surrounded by trees. She loves adding books to her TBR, but actually reading them is another matter. 

When I was younger, I was that pretentious thirteen-year-old who read Walden and thought I alone, with Henry David Thoreau, was aware of my life, unlike everyone else who went through life blind, without reflection. But that wasn’t the only aspect of the book that stuck with me. I became enraptured with the idea of “sucking the marrow out of life,” of making sure every second of my life counted. I wanted to live extraordinarily, and not, “when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I first thought about grand gestures—travelling the world, becoming a bestselling author, living in Paris or in the woods (though seeming opposites, both locations oozed romanticism). However, these grand actions were out of my reach as I was, well, thirteen. Yet this realization did nothing to quell my worries that I should still be doing something to further these dreams.

I grew haunted by other quotes like, “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” I worried over every second I spent watching TV or scrolling Pinterest instead of writing, growing more and more certain that my life was slipping away, even though I had yet to reach my twenties.

Over time my attitude started to change again, maybe coinciding with the disenchantment of learning that Thoreau’s solitude was a lie, that his mother still did his laundry and a neighbor baked him pies, and that Walden Pond was in fact only a short walk away from civilization. For whatever reason, Walden slipped from my mind. I grew up.

I took on a mindset of acceptance of whatever happened in my life—that my life is whatever my life is, that quiet moments are just as much life as the pursuit of my goals is. Growing where you are planted has been a sort of family motto, and maybe I finally internalized it.

I used to think “living deliberately” meant doing crazy things, making wild memories. But with this new understanding, it could also mean appreciating every small moment—going on walks, driving my sister places, preparing dinner with my mom.

Now, as an adult freshly graduated from college, I’ve added another interpretation: “living deliberately” as questioning the ways I have been taught to live, questioning if the paths laid out before me are truly the ones that will bring me happiness. Like many in my generation, I’m questioning the model of a marriage and a white picket fence and two point five children. I’m also questioning the myriad ways I can fit together a job and my passion for writing. There are no clear paths. But I have to venture out into the metaphorical woods if I am to find one all the same.

~

I visited Walden Pond on a family vacation during high school. The pond itself was smaller than I’d expected, the woods plainer. Pollen coated our shins as we hiked. When we came to the ruins of where Thoreau’s cottage once stood, I placed a rock on a cairn someone else had started to build. I paused, wanting to have a moment. The sun shone through the branches of pines. I sneezed. I let the moment go. We continued hiking.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great essay, looking forward to many more!

    Reply
  2. Kyric Koning

    Reflective pieces always bring my heart joy. I think you have a pretty good grasp on the idea of “living deliberately.” The idea of “wasting one’s life” is a problem transcending ages. I like hearing your perspective on it.

    Reply

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