Allow your eyes to wander around a city bus between stops. Do it for yourself. Do it for fun. Whatever. You may notice what you think is a look of quiet desperation on the faces of many of its passengers. You will turn away and think "Man, do I feel lucky to be living an interesting life" and you will feel incredibly good about yourself for a moment, until you realize that the look is painted on your face as well.

Who are we to judge the quiet desperation of strangers? And how can we assume that we know them at a glance? We don't, not unless the glance is one of those special soul-searching eye-locking glances that can scare the shit out of you. Maybe Henry David Thoreau was a whole lot wiser than I am (well, ok, that's kind of true), but I don't think is was right for him to judge the quiet masses as a whole. Most men (and women, obviously) lead lives that would surprise us if we saw them from the window of a coffee shop, full of ups and downs, full of untold stories that would burn the air with their intensity. I know I do.

"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.

"When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear."

Advice from Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862), in Chapter 1, Economy, of Walden. Thoreau was a Transcendentalist writer who moved to Walden Pond, Massachusetts on July 4, 1845, and lived there for two years and two months. He explains why in the following passage from Walden:

"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 practise 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."

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation...”
- Henry David Thoreau

That’s the better-known half of the quote. The remainder seems, at least to my ear, both less profound and more disturbing: “...and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

That scares me.

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.
- German Proverb

Because the hard truth is that I feel I really have something to offer. Maybe not to the world, but to people. To a person. To a woman. One woman, in particular, whose name I will neglect to mention here. And yet I can’t help but think of the obstacles, the problems, the chances involved in actually taking a stand, in trying to do something, because another hard truth is that anyone who tries runs the risk of failure.

“Failure is not an option.”
Which was fine for Gene Kranz. Fine for Lovell, Swigert, and Haise. But it isn’t nearly as convenient a benchmark for me.

Failure is always an option. Or at least a possibility. Because I like to sing, I like opening up and belting out an off-key version of “Unknown Legend” or “Walking in Memphis”. I enjoy singing. But usually in the shower. I enjoy writing, I enjoy drawing, and painting, and woodworking. But failure is an ever-present possibility. A terrifying possibility. So I enjoy my singing, my drawings, my poetry, and all the rest. But in private. At least mostly, though I do share with some. But such selective sharing barely counts.

Only enemies speak the truth; friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of duty.
- Stephen King

I fear. And it is this quality that binds me to the mass of men.

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