by Laraine L. Thompson
Feeling overwhelmed by the busyness of his life, Henry David Thoreau, in 1845 took advantage of an offer from his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and moved himself to Emerson’s property near Boston, Massachusetts. There, for two years, on Walden Pond, Thoreau carved a life of great simplicity for himself. He chronicled those efforts in the now classic, Walden in which he wrote,
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
We, who live far more complicated, demanding lives cannot afford the luxury— such an ironic term—of making such a decision to leave life behind. Here we are smack dab in the 21st century. Thoreau would be completely overwhelmed by what he would see if he were here! While we cannot do as Thoreau did, perhaps we can glean a bit of wisdom from his experiences. He determined that there are only four things that a man needs to survive: food, clothing, shelter and fuel.
Food—Sustaining life through eating as defined by the Word of Wisdom will do exactly what the scripture promises. We shall receive health, marrow to our bones, wisdom and great treasures, even hidden treasures. Indeed, we will run and not be weary, walk and not faint. Just how closely are we living by the counsel in D&C 89? How well are we doing at simplifying our meals to provide us the basic nutrients of life, to provide us an increase of strength and health? Or are we so acculturated to eating in such a way as to increase only our blood pressure, our cholesterol or our blood sugar?
Clothing—Modesty always has been and always will be a hallmark of LDS lives. We have been cautioned by our general authorities for years and years now that we are to avoid the extremes of fashion, not to mention the expense of those fashions. In the end, like it or not, we send powerful messages to others by the way we dress. We find that not only do we affect how others behave, but our dress affects how we ourselves behave. Simplifying our clothing needs/avoiding the “costly apparel” trap described in the Book of Mormon will enable us to be far more effective families and members of the church.
Shelter—The current housing crisis is all that we need to remind us of the counsel given to us for decades by our general authorities, Brigham Young included, to live within our means. Many of us, sadly, are right where we were promised we would be if we didn’t simplify our housing needs. And while we are at it, let us further simplify our lives by cleaning and organizing what we do have. Just as our clothing choices send powerful messages, so do the condition of our homes. Are we the bright spot on the block in our neighborhood? Or do we contribute further to some sort of blight? Even the humblest home and yard can be neat and comely and in good repair.
Fuel—Government urgings aside, many of us are adjusting our household thermometers, and turning off unused lighting and discovering some savings in the process. I can still hear the constant voice of my father—and it was strong—telling us to turn out the lights when leaving a room, to limit the amount of water used for our showers and baths, to close the door, to turn down the thermostat! His voice still informs me today. Those habits we were forced to develop were good. Teaching energy frugality to our families is still good. Additionally, could we live without the above mentioned fuel sources? What provisions have we made in the event that these sources become unavailable?
As we begin 2010, let us return, at least symbolically, to Walden Pond. Let us concentrate on simplifying our lives. Let us prayerfully and with wisdom assess our needs as opposed to our wants, let us determine to “live deliberately”. Let us disconnect ourselves from the world in ways that will benefit our families, and while we are at it, our pocketbooks.
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