Today's post is brought to you by the letter L, for Lara. Lara can usually be found over at Life: The Ongoing Education, which also starts with the letter L. As you can see, the letter L is a precocious brat and won't leave us alone. Please enjoy Lara's lovely literary contributions.
“I couldn’t exist the way you do, Henry; I like my warm toast and tea and soft-boiled egg brought to me on a tray in bed each morning. Whenever I even think of Walden, I get a cold. But I admire you, Henry, I really do. You’re my walking ethic!”
Okay, okay. Let’s get a couple things out of the way. First of all, I’m a high school English teacher, which means I’m a big literary geek. So even though what I’m going to talk about here is kind of superficial and fluffy, I’m going to lead it off with some critical analysis of a play. You’ll have to forgive me.
Secondly, you’ll just have to remember that I’m not your beloved Christine, so you may have to have a little patience with my poor pitiful self, just trying to keep y’all entertained while she’s away. There is an opportunity for audience participation later, so keep your eyes peeled.
Now, back to the quote. It comes from a play called The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, which is a fictional accounting of some real events in Henry David Thoreau’s life. Thoreau is most famously remembered as a “rebel” who openly disagreed with many of the U.S. government’s policies in the nineteenth century. He retreated to Walden pond, to live in harmony with nature, free from what he believed to be a corrupt society. He was, to put it mildly, a little radical in his thinking.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was his mentor, a fellow writer, and a well-known orator. The people listened to Emerson and his ideas, when they happily ignored Thoreau. But Emerson tried to make changes from within the society, living within its rules, speaking in moderation. In the quote above, Emerson is responding to Thoreau, who is angry at Emerson for not taking more drastic action in protest of injustice. And Emerson says, “I like my warm toast and tea and soft-boiled egg brought to me on a tray in bed each morning.”
I know, many of you are having an initial response of, “What the hell does that have to do with it?”
(The rest of you are either yawning in total boredom or you’ve stopped reading long before now.)
Emerson’s point is that his life is more worth living when he has the little insignificant pleasures in his day. To him, having breakfast in bed keeps him happy, and that lets him keep working for change. If he gave it all up and moved to a cabin in the woods to protest, he would lose interest – it just wouldn’t be worth it.
I see a lot of moms who think they need to pour their whole lives into their children and house. And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s admirable – it’s just not always practical. Some women would be better off taking an hour once a week to completely ignore the kids, leave them with a babysitter, and treat herself to a mani/pedi at the local salon. By keeping that “me time” in her schedule, she’s actually better at her work as a mother, and that means she should not feel guilty about keeping it.
It’s the same when we think about making changes in the world around each and every one of us. Should we be taking steps to be more environmentally conscious? Yes, of course. But should we be taking radical steps and getting rid of each and every piece of our life that we enjoy that might possibly leave a carbon footprint? Well, that might just make us want to give up the fight completely. Should I be donating some of my money each month to charity? Yes, definitely. But should I be donating every last cent that I don’t need for food and rent? Well, without any niceties whatsoever, what keeps me waking up every morning?
So here’s the thing – my “toast and tea and soft-boiled egg”? For me, those are shoes. My latest purchase is this lovely pair from Target. New shoes make me happy. They’re superficial and shallow and completely insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they make me happy. And happy people can make a lot of changes in the world.
So what is your toast and tea? What are your soft-boiled eggs? What are the luxuries you wouldn’t want to do without? Come on – I know you’ve got some good answers lurking out there, and I want to hear ‘em!