I came across this story a few years back. For some reason (I haven’t pieced it all together yet) I became interested in survival / outdoor / climbing stories and read quite a few books about survival techniques, survival stories, climbing stories. I also began climbing “Fourteeners” in Colorado each summer, a tradition which continues. As part of that journey of books I found Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, the story of the 1996 Everest climbing disaster in which multiple people died. I loved that book so much that I branched out into his other stuff, Into The Wild, being one of them. At the time, which was now probably 5 or 6 years ago, I remember feeling haunted by this story without really understanding why. It seemed to be saying something to me which I didn’t really understand. Time seemed to dull the haunting. Until now.
As seems to happen with all the good stories in our culture, it has made its way into the theater thanks to Sean Penn, and now I find myself haunted all over again. Karmen and I went to see the movie last week, and I have pulled out my copy of the book and am reading it again. I anticipate I will read it again and again and again and again and again. Maybe I will be stuck on it for awhile. I’ve started to mark it up with underlines and notes in the margins, and it will find its way to the stack of books I have by my bed that have had such a great impact on me in 2007 (Mere Christianity, Divine Nobodies, Velvet Elvis, The Way of the Wild Heart, Sex God). I keep them there for quick reference. This one will be on that stack. It may even be on the top of the stack for awhile. And I may blog on it for awhile so you best read it and go see it if you want to follow along.
I sense that God is pulling some things together for me with this book. He is showing me at least a little piece of how some of the things in my life over the last few years have worked together to bring about this crazy 2007. He is allowing me at least a little understanding of where it began. I am seeing just a little of how he has been working in me even when I wondered whether or not he was real. He is tying some things together. And you know just one reason how this is remarkable is that he is doing it through this book and this story. Somehow I came away from the first 38 years of my life with the idea in my head that if something didn’t have the “Nazarene” or at least the “Christian” label, then it was not the truth. If it did not originate from those sources, then it may be interesting but not of much value. Just the fact that I now believe that wherever there is something good happening, God is in that thing working to further his kingdom in bringing about more of heaven and less of hell here and now as he moves towards the redemption of ALL of his creation, is amazing. So here I am, the recipient of God advancing his kingdom in my life from a source that I wouldn’t have imagined 5 years ago.
This is the story of Chris McCandless, an upper middle class kid who was academically outstanding, athletically gifted, and from an intact modestly dysfunctional family. Upon graduation from Emory University he donated all of his savings to OXFAM and left what everyone is told to seek, the “American Dream” of power and wealth and status and stuff, to become a penniless wanderer across the United States in search of something. I am not sure that even he knew for what he was searching when he started. For over two years he wandered, his family having no idea why he left or where he was, experiencing the here and now instead of living for the then and there. He ended up dead of starvation after over 100 days of living off the land in a remote area of Alaska near Mount McKinely. Only then did his family and friends know what had come of him. He left behind journals and books (he was a fan of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Thoreau) with notes and entries from which Krakauer pieced together the story (along with extensive interviews of the people Chris encountered on his journey) and from which we can hope to understand his motivation.
The story is of course tragic in the end, and I am not claiming that leaving your family with no explanation is a noble adventure. And for those of you who have already thought as you are reading this that I am going to pull the same stunt, get yourself together. There is no need to start some needless conjecture in your circles of conversation. Call me crazy or weird if you like, but don’t state things that have not even a hint of truth. Chris made plenty of mistakes. As have all of us. But I can identify with why he did what he did. I understand it in my core because I am in much the same place searching for the same thing.
I think that he was on a spiritual quest. He had been told (or at least it was strongly suggested to him) what his life was supposed to look like. What he was supposed to think. Where he was supposed to go and what he was supposed to believe. And he looked around himself, and what he saw was largely hypocrisy. And he wanted nothing to do with that. So he went off to discover for himself where the truth lies. This is the same journey that I am on, and it is a spiritual quest. There are parts of his story, things that he thought, things that he did which seem to resonate in a crystal clear way deeply in my mind and soul. I feel that I understand him. I wish I could have met him.
I will blog more about this in days and weeks to come. For now, this is where I am. Have a great day. Do not stop journeying. Do not stop living here and now. Quit looking to then and there. God’s kingdom is here, NOW.