The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. – Thoreau, Walden
If Thoreau is right, and some have argued so, then many people walking the earth and living their lives routinely with no hope of change. We dream great dreams and long to do great things, but often allow ourselves to be satisfied with our normal responsibilities.
A Trip to Antarctica
Recently I had reason to reconsider an adventure that I have long dreamed of taking. I’ve always wanted to make it to the South Pole.
This weird, masochistic idea was birthed by my reading of Mind over Matter by Ranulph Fiennes when I was in high school. He and a partner crossed the Antarctic continent in 1992-93 without any outside support. They hauled sledges that started at nearly five-hundred pounds each for more than 1,000 miles.
Unless you are still in high school, you will likely wonder why someone would attempt this, much less why they would actually follow through with it.
In the case of Fiennes and Stroud, the answer is a resounding “Because.”
The reason they wanted to undertake such a grueling and miserable trip was simply because it had never been done before. They did raise quite a bit of money for people suffering from MS, but one does not simply cross Antarctica to raise money. There has to be something else in play to get someone to do that.
But for Fiennes, the answer really seems to be that he wanted to do something no one had ever done before. The book is a detailed account of how that adventure took place.
I had reason to think about this journey again, twenty years after I first read about it because I was looking for something to read. Since I am rather tied up in normal human responsibilities in addition to my dissertation, reading about adventure is about as close as I can get to it.
My body tells me, however, that it is highly unlikely that I will ever attempt anything as grueling as a trip across Antarctica. There are too many grinds, bumps, and creaks in my joints. When I get up and move around they get louder.
Longing for Adventure
Although I may not have an opportunity for such a lavish adventure in this life, I appreciate that some people have. But reading the book, including the account of the absolute misery of the trip, it makes me consider why adventure is so appealing.
Most people that have adventures did not set out to have them. It is one thing to be swept into an adventure and another to seek one. It seems to me that having adventures is good, while seeking adventures is a bit vain. Perhaps I am experiencing early onset curmudgeonity.
Of course, from a Christian perspective, even a life of quiet desperation is one of great joy. It may be that we simply do not require adventurous thrills to feel fulfilled. As Christians, we have the hope of the resurrection and the knowledge of the significance of our actions even in the mundane things of life.
However, setting aside that vision of grandeur for a moment—and it may be helpful to do so, as a thought experiment—we can see that most of us do live in a rather routine sort of way and rarely do we do something truly adventurous. It is good occasionally to consider adventure and what may come of it. According to Bilbo, they tend to make one late for dinner.
When I read Christian biographies, as I often do aloud to my children for their benefit and to myself for my own edification, I am often struck by the fact that many Christian heroes got sucked into adventures while simply trying to live for Christ.
Corrie Ten Boom got taken to the Nazi concentration camps because she was faithful in being hospitable to her fellow humans who happened to be Jewish. William Carey started a university, a printing press, and did many other things in India because it was how God allowed him a platform to preach the gospel. Francis Schaeffer lived in the mountains of Switzerland for decades and welcomed hundreds of young people into his home because it was the simple task that God gave him.
Indeed, while Carey may have called for his audience to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God, his adventure was built around living faithfully for the Lord by fulfilling his vocation. In other words, he didn’t seek radical adventure, though he embraced what came his direction.
This sort of faithfulness, I think, is the way we Christians ought to live our lives. We should be joyful in the mundane. Faithful in everything. In the end, who knows what adventures will come our way.