It’s refreshing to read high-schoolers getting excited about writing, thinking, even about “being awake” in the philosophical sense. It’s even better when it’s Thoreau who turns them on — or who wakes up their minds and souls, rather. It was Thoreau who did it for me, too — a quarter century ago.
Haley Henderson, a local high school student, writes in the Yakima Herald today about how Thoreau kindles awareness. The “Why I Left the Woods” chapter in Walden actually got to her, and now she says she realizes “unlike many, that English class is important.” Oooh!
The last two paragraphs, the ones including the metaphor of the resurrection of the long-dormant bug in the applewood table, stun her. She quotes Thoreau: “Who does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by the hearing of this?” Thoreau reasons. “Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead dry life of society …”
She realizes, among other things, that “Humans often only recognize what there is to recognize because it has been dropped in their field of view.” (I like that.)
And I especially like this part: “As of now, I have been awake twice in my life, once while in English class and once while attempting to organize these scatterbrained opinions and ideas on paper.” Right. It’s not just the ah-ha moment, not just the epiphany, the flare of delight and insight. It’s also the joyful pain of writing (or is it painful joy?), of the writing process, which makes for deeper life-awareness, deeper Life (with a capital L) in general.
Clearly, Haley Henderson values ideas, or is beginning to. She’s lucky. Her life will be much richer for it. She’s already written and published a pretty good essay. She’s already tasted the sweetness of ideas. Lucky, lucky. Thanks, Haley. You’re a needed inspiration.
Here’s the whole article, just in case the YHR doesn’t keep it available online and because I don’t think it’s got its own url:
PUBLISHED ON January 2, 2007
Section: Unleashed-Teen Section
Thoreau kindles awareness
How many days in your life do find yourself truly awake to your surroundings? You probably think this is a stupid question. Afterall, being awake is a state of awareness and, unless you’re heavily sedated or asleep, certainly you must be awake.
Being awake must take on a different meaning, seeing that most people spend their lives in oblivion to what this world has to offer. After sitting through the same mind-wrenching, loud and monotonous International Baccalaureate English class, the ideas of my teacher are finally sinking in.
We studied the works of Henry David Thoreau, and despite the dismay of my class, I, for the first time, gained something priceless from my studies. I found the realization that I’ve been mentally dormant for far too long.
For those of you who don’t know who Thoreau is, he is revered as a great American author who was a transcendentalist, pacifist and philosopher. Thoreau’s works actively promote the ideas of a simplistic life, and individuality; he was so completely different, many considered him an anarchist.
I’m 16, and definitely not breaking any stereotypes: I drive semi-recklessly, I listen to garbage, and I make the same blank expressions every one of my classmates make when enduring yet another boring class period.
I listen to the same idiots degrade the works of famous writers, argue over simple details when they could debate or reason, and bicker about how useless English class is. It completely disgusts me.
Now, I realize, unlike many, that English class is important. Seeing that unless we want to be outspoken and pompous as us teens naturally are, we best organize ourselves and learn how to analyze things and speak our piece without profanity. Could such objection possibly pose the idea that we are simply and stupidly asleep and haven’t realized it yet?
The essay our class read was from Thoreau’s book “Walden,” titled “Why I Left the Woods.” The final two paragraphs of the essay summarize the honest truth about society and human nature in one of the most eccentric metaphors I’ve ever read. It recapitulates the miracle of a strong and beautiful bug hatching out of the applewood of a table after 60 years of dormancy.
“Who does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by the hearing of this?” Thoreau reasons. “Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead dry life of society … ”
The beautiful and winged life is, of course, in every single reader’s head to fathom, a novel idea, an inner genius, a hidden talent, or an inspiration that has yet to be discovered, and it takes a bit more than heated controversy or a picturesque moment in nature to wake it. So many people spend their lives in the pages of tabloids, living for a horoscope, or being engulfed by the ideals of a TV show. I happen to agree that society is simply a dead, dry piece of wood, and there are simply too many eggs waiting to be hatched.
I often write to please and humor, but can you not see the truth that living isn’t true living without utmost observation? The people who get a DUI, embezzle money from a family business, or live their lives waiting for another child support check, can’t possibly argue they are awake; they are simply breathing and coexisting like everyone else.
The concluding words of the essay state, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. The sun is but a morning star.”
Humans often only recognize what there is to recognize because it has been dropped in their field of view. More simply, we recognize our existence only because we are existing. But when aware, it can be said that there are far more conceptual ideas and inspiration that can be spurred from one single thought.
As of now, I have been awake twice in my life, once while in English class and once while attempting to organize these scatterbrained opinions and ideas on paper. Considering my age, either that’s impressive, or I’ve eluded myself into thinking I’m awake fully. Either way, I think I’m headed in the right direction.
So many students put on their headphones and drown out the ideas that have been tossed out to them quite nicely. I truly took these words to heart and hope someday, that as an egg waiting to be hatched in the dead, dry wood, I will open my eyes one day, and never find myself oblivious again.
* Haley Henderson attends Davis High School.
Copyright, 2007, Yakima Herald-Republic. All Rights Reserved.