One must take inspiration and relief where I find it these days. For me it’s mostly outdoors in nature, my antidote to “The Sultan” and “Sheeple” who continue to invent new ways to disappoint. I was recently heartened by an essay, “The Hole in our Hearts,” by fellow blogger and wonderer, Juliet—a millennial half my age with an “old soul” beyond her years.
The essay begins with a tone-setting quote from Thoreau, “...for my greatest skill has been to want but little.” Gosh, almost sounds un-American today, enough to have “Wall Streeters” sitting on the windowsills in their “Ivory Palaces.”
I was burning a little midnight oil the night after consuming Juliet’s thought provoking essay—nose buried in Krakauer's "Eiger Dreams, Ventures Among Men and Mountains,"—trying to read myself through a bout of insomnia brought on by the CBS Evening News. I
stumbled across a quote by ballsy mountaineer Alan Burgess about his choice to live in Nepal: "I don't mind dirt-bagging it... I've actually come to prefer the Third World lifestyle. When I come back to the West now, I become confused by all the choices. You really feel the cul- ture shock...the difference between a cul- ture that has some depth and one that only thinks it has."
It made me question our culture, if our once trend-setting nation of opportunity, ingenuity and depth characterized by “the greatest generation” had grown soft and, dare I say it, shallow? Selfish?
Honestly, I empathize with millenni- als...their burden of graduating college swamped with student-loan indebtedness in a lackluster minimum wage “service”
economy. Predictions are that millennials will be the first generation to be worse off than their par- ents, yet we are saddling them with the enormous task of picking up the tab
for our aging “Boomer” population, the millions upon millions (and growing) of straws, sucking the life out of the coffers of Medicare to such a degree that it won’t be around for them.
Add to that the tab we’re leaving for solving other problems we created, big- ticket items like climate change and a soaring National Debt.
Juliet went on to say: "I think a lot about a concept that I call 'the hole in our hearts.' I think of this aching absence as one of the inviolable truths that make the human experience what it is, categorically unique from other life forms... We are
undeniably insatiable creatures. There is simply always more to be wanted and achieved. Happiness is painfully transient, especially in the world we find ourselves in today. The hole only seems to grow deeper...”
Indeed, "ballsy" mountaineer Alan, while shunning our “shallow” Western consumer-based culture, still fell prey to Juliet's premise, that we are "undeniably insatiable creatures,” that “there is simply always more to be wanted and achieved.” It is "achievement" that Alan desires...to finally rid himself of the insatiable demon that drives him to stand on Everest's sum- mit, even at the risk of dying in the attempt and leaving a mourning son and wife.
My demon is not "Everest," nor any- thing remotely approaching it. Considering my age, I have enough "Everests" right here in Lovely Ouray to last out my life. While my demon doesn’t need the glory of achievement, he does need something to climb; it quells the “rat” that gnaws inside. Perhaps John Edwards expressed it best in "Letters From a Man”: "I grew up exuberant in body but with a nervy, crav- ing mind. It was wanting something tangi- ble. It sought for reality intensely, always (as) if it were not there. So I climb.”
Amid blessings too numerous to count, I often fall prey to the same dis-ease with “life” that Juliet expressed in “holes in our hearts,” where "Even in the midst of good things happening, sometimes we feel a quiet voice inside ourselves asking is this enough? Is this all there is?" She goes on to answer her own question: "Honestly, the f*****g best we can do, little by little, is to aim for less attachment and expecta- tion...one of those things easier said than done. Still...our will is so powerful...If I
didn't believe that the long, slow road of improvement was possible, I would have no reason to seek the highest version of myself."
Maybe I'm too analytical, but here I am smack-dab in the middle of the "third act" of life, still doing battle with "the rat that gnaws inside," or, as Juliet would say, "the holes in my heart." In the end, I accept my dissatisfaction for what it is, a universal human condition, and try to take more pleasure from accumulating mountain “experiences” instead of “stuff.” Though I expect no more—for mountains are more than enough—the day will come when I am forced by the ravages of time to live with less. If by chance a “greater purpose" is intended for my life, it knows where to find me. Until then, I climb.
Mark Johnson is a restless soul who lives in Ouray, Colorado with his wife, Bobbie. He is happiest when exploring the West's nooks and crannies, hiking, climbing and moun- tain biking. He authors a "wanderlust" based bloog: www.Boxcanyonblog.com.