“I am dying here,” he said with a quiet fury, sitting across from his pretty wife in their small, Brooklyn apartment. He looked into her deep, brown eyes and hated her calm composure as he tried to express the sense that his world was caving in around him. The tears that streamed down her cheeks were the only evidence that she too could feel his despair.
“How could you possibly understand?” he railed. “You emigrate from India and in five years are vice president of R and D for a telecom giant. I went to Columbia, earned a degree in literature, and I have reached the lofty position of being a chief claims adjuster for an insurance conglomerate. My boss is a fucking gecko!
“I literally do nothing for a living, and you’re working for the people who are going to be ruling the fucking world. Hell, they probably already are. You are a part of the storm troopers that are going to ruin everything.”
He got like this at times. She breathed deeply and vowed to let him finish venting. She knew he wanted her to give him advice he could reject, and she refused to do anything other than listen, lovingly, attentively.
“That’s it?” he yelled at her. “You’ve got nothing for me?” He looked wildly about the room, as if there were an escape hatch somewhere, before he rushed down the hall and disappeared into their bedroom.
She could hear him slamming open the closet and rummaging through his drawers. He carried a bag into the bathroom, threw in some toiletries and came back to the living room, packed and wearing his camping jacket. He moved toward the door, and she came to him and put her hand on his arm.
“Jack, I wish you wouldn’t.” Her voice always sounded like liquid caramel.
“I have to get out of here.”
“But where will you go?”
“I-I don’t know. I just have to do something–go somewhere.”
It was 3 AM when he finally pulled into the empty parking lot of the Walden Pond State Reserve in Concord, Massachusetts. As a student, he had always admired the writings of Thoreau and his decision to abandon civilization for the simple living he hoped to find by withdrawing to cabin that he had built from scrap here on the pond, growing his own food, living a solitary life, and writing volumes of journals that later became his book about his two years here at the tiny lake.
He climbed over the gate and made his way along the shore by the light of the moon, to the stone pillars that marked where Thoreau had built the cabin. Nearby was a pile of rocks where pilgrims like him left a token of their visit. Jack sank down on the ground and rested against one of the pillars, turned up his collar and vowed to sort out just what he was going to do with his life while he waited for the sun to rise.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he heard the click of a single rock hitting the top of the pile. He looked up into the dim grey of the moonlight and saw a portly man dressed in a worn winter coat and wool cap.
“Oh, sorry, buddy. Didn’t even see you there. Not many folks here this early. I don’t sleep much these days and kind of like visiting this old pile of rocks every morning. Nice place to watch the sunrise, if you don’t mind me joining you.” He circled around next to Jack and perched on a nearby tree stump.
“No, it’s fine. I’m Jack, by the way.”
“Hank. Nice to meet you Jack-by-the-way. Ha!”
The fog in Jack’s brain started to clear and he stared at the grey-bearded stranger.
“Hank, as in Henry?’
“Yes sir, Hank Thoreau, at your service.”
“You are Henry David Thoreau?”
“Afraid so. And yes, this pile of rocks is right about where I built that damn cabin a few years back.”
“I’ve read everything you wrote about that damn cabin and the years you spent out here.”
“Oh, Lord, you’re not an acolyte I hope. I wrote a lot of bullshit back then.”
I recited from memory, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not…”
“…when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” Hank interrupted. “Yes, that part–that’s not half bad.“
“Well, I’ve utterly failed to live a meaningful life. It’s why I came here. I was looking for some kind of answer. I work in all day in a cubicle, talking on the phone to people suffering through tragic circumstances, trying to figure out ways to help them as little as I possibly can because that’s what my bosses expect of me.”
“Sounds bad,” he said, chewing on a reed he had plucked from the ground. “Not exactly sucking the marrow out of life are you lad?”
“I’m an asshole is what I am. I’m angry all the time because I feel like I’ve wasted my life. I have an amazing, beautiful wife, who I left crying at home when I said a lot of stupid things and then stormed out of the house to come here. I…”
“Stop, please. Look. You can see the pond now.”
Jack looked up, and sure enough there was a pink tinge around the surrounding hillside and he could just make out the grey shadows of the loons beginning to scoot across the pond.
“Look, Jack. I don’t have the answers for you. I wrote a lot of stuff a long time ago. I was true to some of it and some turned out to be utter nonsense. This whole living in isolation thing? It was a lonely life. Why don’t you get back home, make up with your amazing and beautiful wife and then quit that horrible job. You feel trapped by it, yes? You can’t even see how very young that you are.“ He got up from his perch and stood directly in front of the younger man. “You have time. Time to start again.”
He sighed. “And I am out of time. I think I might be able to sleep a bit now.” He reached out and shook Jack’s hand. “It was nice talking with you, son.” He began to walk away but then turned. “Jack! One thing. Read less, and do more.” And with that he walked away into the morning mist.
Jack watched as Hank strolled down the path that would take him the rest of the way around the pond. He got up, dusted himself off and walked in the opposite direction, back to the parking lot and his car. He climbed inside, pulled out his phone and called his wife.
“Jack? I’ve been worried. Where are you?”
“I took a long drive. I’m about four hours away. I had some time to think. I-I met someone. We talked a while.”
“Are you OK?
“I’ve been such an idiot.”
“Yes, I agree completely.”
He smiled, “I think I can do better.”
“Why don’t I take the day off and you can try to show me just how much better you can do.”
“You can take a day?”
“We storm troopers have excellent benefits.”
“I’ll be home by 10.”
“Make it 9:30. I promise to pay all of your speeding tickets.”