Into wild, honest life

Last week I finished reading Jon Krakauer’s book about a young man who walked into Alaskan wilderness in 1992 and didn’t come out.

I’m drawn to such stories by master nonfictionists. I read Krakauer’s Into Thin Air a while ago and was haunted by his account of an ill-fated Mt. Everest climb. On my shelf sit other books about true, dramatic events: The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger; Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand; Apollo 13, by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, by Steven Callahan; Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, by Piers Paul Read (a bit grizzly, but great); and the one I began with, preteen and romantic: Dove, by Robin Lee Graham, about a boy who sailed solo around the world. These sorts of tales involve many elements, layers, details, and I can’t help it – I love an immersion into the worlds they reveal when someone has limbed them with style.

This latest read, Into the Wild, made me catch my breath early in and debate whether I’d chosen a wise leisure activity. The story’s main character, Chris McCandless, was an intelligent, idealistic guy who could become ensnared by forays into deep thought, who came to be repulsed by our techo society, and who loved to hike out into nature. A boy reminding me right away of my son.

It turns out Chris reminded a lot of the people he met of sons, brothers, or themselves before life had tested and changed them. Prior to leaving for his “great Alaskan adventure,” he leather-tramped (wandered without a vehicle) throughout the western U.S. He made friends of all ages. Chris kept in touch with everyone, except the family he left behind in West Virginia. Having severed contact with his parents; he introduced himself on his travels as Alex.

What intrigued and ultimately satisfied me about Chris’s story is that its lesson, while tragic, is real and not without hope. Like a lot of young people, Chris got angry with his folks. He was a moral kid. He learned his parents had done some awful things back when they were younger. What bugged him the most, it sounds like, was their dishonesty regarding their pasts. Chris came to feel like his childhood had been a sham.

I remember throughout the year Tim and I went through our worst times, having people we’d grown up with – even our wonderful parents – share their failures. We appreciated the gestures. We also wondered to each other, “Why didn’t they tell us this stuff sooner? Maybe we wouldn’t have considered them too perfect to bring our less-than-lovely admissions to.”

As a parent, I felt determined to be honest with my kids. And yet, going through the raising of children taught me there’s a time for discretion. It would be easy to dump a load on a young person’s shoulders that he or she’d have no capacity to bear. Minefields can’t be avoided, I discovered. There’s no perfect way, either, to navigate them. We do the best we can.

Yesterday, Tim and I found time to meet at our city’s cheap theater, where movies on Wednesdays cost a buck apiece. Tim had called me earlier, to say, “Into the Wild is playing.”

“Let’s go!” I said.

The movie, perhaps even better than the book, handles the roles of Chris McCandless’s parents very well. There’s honesty about who and what they were and where they failed. The final credits thank the real-life couple for being brave.

As I contemplate my freshly finished book manuscript, with its bits of drama and details to which I hope readers can relate, I remain hopeful regarding its honesty. People have already told me I’m brave for writing about my failures. Yep, brave or stupid, I suppose.

Truth will out, though. I guess I want to be the one to tell it.

If you’re into truth well told, and if you can handle tragedy’s expression in your life right now, I recommend Into the Wild, both on the page and screen.


Marianne Elixir said…
This is a great post. I already puzzel over honesty verses discretion in parenting. I suppose it is good to know I will fail either way! Ha. Yet we keep striving.

As a child, I can say that my greatest frustration is parents who defend their every action rather than being able to apologize and own up. I hope that I can take that away from the frustrations I have had with my parents and in-laws, and try to do a little better with my own children.

I think you are brave, and I think we all benefit (especially in America's church culture) to hear that other's have failures too. I can't wait to read your book!

Also, I was given "Adrift" on a flight to Hawaii by the flirtatious business man I was sitting next to (at 17!). I loved the book, and have since passed it on to many friends. I am a sucker for real life stories, too. Who needs fiction when life is already so dynamic?! (of course, you know there is much of fiction I would not want to give up).
Deanna said…
Those flirtatious business men! At least he had a good book to pass on, instead (I hope) of making a pass.

You bring up a great point, Marianne, about parents who can't own up to failure. Probably it's a learned trait, and bravo to you for determining ahead to break the cycle. I know you'll do the best you can.
Marianne Elixir said…
Well, I think there was some arrangement, like if I was not married in the next 4 years, I had to fly to Hawaii and marry him....Ralph was the name. I didn't hold up my end of the bargain =)

Thanks for your confidence in my cycle breaking. We have quite a few we are taking on (divorce being the most significant), but we are determined. I didn't really think about it being a learned trait...but as I have thought about it, I agree. It has been a generational problem. Perhaps that is a part of the biblical language about the sins of the fathers carrying through to their children's children.