In seventh grade, I read Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book “Into the Wild,” a novel detailing Krakauer’s journey as he followed the tracks of Chris McCandless. McCandless graduated college, donated $25,000 of savings and hitchhiked to the Stampede Trail in Alaska.
This is kind of a spoiler, but not really, because it’s written on the cover of my copy of the book: McCandless dies. This may not be a shock to anyone, seeing that it's a dangerous trek, but in his wake McCandless leaves behind a bit of a mystery as to why – why he left and what his final moments alive might’ve been like.
I guess it was a kind of gruesome, sad book for a 12-year-old to read, but it’s not like I didn’t understand it. Man leaves. Man hitchhikes. Man ends up in Alaska.
I was certainly left a little haunted, but not completely shell-shocked, and I knew I didn’t want to forget how it made me feel. The book struck a chord with me because of McCandless’ intrigue. You kind of want to yell at himbecause he was a fairly privileged kid, and you just want to say, “Why’d you go, Chris?”
But, for as angry as he makes me, I really do understand why he left.
The world really can be a sad place, and I don’t really think I need to explain that. It is simply a universal truth.
So, he ran away. He didn’t want responsibilities, he didn’t want money, he didn’t want possessions – he didn’t even want people in his life.
I was talking to a friend of mine recently and he mentioned what McCandless wrote shortly before he died, which I had completely forgotten about in the years since I read it:
“Happiness only real when shared.”
Even though McCandless died, I’m glad those words were left behind. And maybe they wouldn’t have been left behind if he hadn’t died. I know it’s morbid, but it’s true.
Maybe, if he had survived, he wouldn’t have really realized how, yes, the world is sometimes sad. Sometimes responsibility is overwhelming and sometimes money is more complicated than helpful. Sometimes you fight with people. Sometimes you just want to run away and never come back. However, even when everything sucks, there’s a sincere happiness found when you go through it with at least one person you love.
There will always be an enticing intrigue to going off the grid. That intrigue won’t ever go away, either — the world will always have problems, and you will probably always have problems, too. But that doesn’t mean you get to just leave. You have to realize there’s always at least one reason to stay.
And that one reason is often a person.
A person to share the most painful, saddest and darkest moments in life with — and also the bright, brilliant and wonderful moments.
McCandless was probably at some sort of low point in his life when he left. It takes a very stark and drastic realization to make the decisions he did.
Sometimes I just wish he had realized that he was wrong because it’s sad that he didn’t know he was wrong about people and the world before it was too late.
In times like these, when everything around us creates a feeling of uneasiness, it’s important to know who we can share our little moments of happiness with. Because containing our happiness — containing the things that make us jump for joy and scream with delight and make our life worth living — is almost as bad as loving nothing at all.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever really know how to feel about McCandless. He was somehow selfish, stupid, angering, understandable and relatable all at the same time. I hate him, I like him, I get him.
But, most importantly, I’m grateful for what he left behind. Because at least now we all know now for sure: “Happiness only real when shared.”
Go find your someone, and go share your happiness.