The Plot To Steal Joy: Day 17
Day 17 Unfolds:
Recently I moved to a new neighborhood and found a new cycling friend, Haddon, who has been very kind to show me the local routes. During one of our rides, we rode past the house of legendary Scottish-American outdoorsman and nature conservationist John Muir.
John Muir is a legend because his name is synonymous with the preservation of Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas in California. His writings describing his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada wilderness in California have been read by millions. He founded the Sierra Club, a prominent conservation organization. The 211-mile long John Muir trail, a popular hiking trail across the Sierra Nevada and which forms part of the Pacific Crest Trail, was named in his honor. Other natural areas including the Muir Woods National Monument and Muir Beach in California as well as the John Muir Way in Scotland were also named in his honor.
Another cyclist friend, Alex, highlighted some facts from John Muir’s life which I resonated with deeply. John Muir was a self taught mechanical genius who was offered a lucrative partnership in a booming machine works business but an accident which almost blinded him gave him the resolve to “abandon convention, renounce the prospect of wealth and success, and go wholehearted and unafraid into the American wilderness” (note: I don’t advocate mysticism but this information is taken from here). Like John Muir, I left a conventional career in law and went after my dream of being an author. Like John Muir, I dislike material possessions and consumption. Like John Muir, my heart is lost in the open nature.
Reflecting on John Muir’s life and how acutely I identify with his life, I learnt a very important lesson I’ve always knew but sometimes doubted especially when I allow myself to be dictated, formed and shaped by the values of the general society that deem a regular job, income, career, family and life to be of a certain mold.
The lesson is this - maybe I’m an irregular peg in the round hole of regular society - should I be ashamed? No, I should celebrate my difference - because I am one in 7.5 billion (world population) and there is nobody before or after me who would be me any better than me.
Also recently, another friend Josephine posted a quote by longshoreman, author and philosopher Eric Hoffer, whom I later found out was the only child of poor migrants to the United States. When he was five, he and his mother fell down a flight of stairs - she died while he became blind. He was unschooled for ten years, regained his sight at 15 and taught himself to learn till he was 18. Upon his father’s death, he traveled to California and worked for many years as a longshoreman or a dockworker in the ports of San Francisco. Despite his blue collared work, he read voraciously in libraries during his spare time and wrote several best-seller books on social observation and philosophy. Imagine that! A manual laborer and a best seller author rolled in one!
Eric was a frugal man and spent all his time writing rather than being about town and drinking as many dockworkers in his time did. In a letter to his friend in 1941, Eric Hoffer wrote: “My writing is done in railroad yards while waiting for a freight, in the fields while waiting for a truck, and at noon after lunch. Towns are too distracting.” (from the book, Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher, by Tom Bethell).
Again, I identified keenly with Eric’s frugality and his keen interest in people observation and writing.
Both John Muir and Eric Hoffer taught me that our jobs don’t define our passion and natural calling. No, neither society nor our jobs determine who we are and how we make a dent in our world. We and we only we have the power to let go of convention and answer the still, quiet voice that nudges us from time to time, again and again, for us to be the change maker that we are meant to be. So as much as I encourage myself, I encourage you to hesitate no longer and go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
The score today?