stepping outside

I wasn’t familiar with the story of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz until I watched a preview (on that Mount Olympus of all internet time-wasters, Apple Movie Trailers) of a forthcoming film called Surfwise. This is the story of a man who left his successful medical practice to travel around North and South America with his wife and their nine kids in a 24-foot camper so that they could surf full-time. This idea of becoming a “businessless person,” as Zen Master Linji says, is a seductive one. Wild nature is shrinking and as a society we (and our children, if we have them) don’t spend enough time romping in the woods or combing the beaches anymore. I was watching HBO a few nights ago and George Carlin was on, doing his usual routine, when he started talking about how our kids are so overscheduled right now, and how something that used to be spontaneous – play – has now been transformed into “playdates.” What happened, Carlin wondered, to a kid sitting in the backyard in the grass, just sitting there, digging a hole in the ground with a stick? “Do they even make sticks anymore?” he asked. I laughed because it sounded funny at the time. But I wonder. If you look at Doc Paskowitz’s story, you might conclude that he was crazy. His children certainly criticized him for handicapping them in life by not sending them to regular school, etc. When Thoreau moved out to his cabin at Walden Pond, he was stepping outside of what society at that time thought was normal behavior. And yet, his example, his rebelliousness, serves as an example for us today. I wonder sometimes how far I would be willing to step outside of cultural norms to pursue a life of true independence. Would I ever have the courage to sell everything I own, take my wife and kids to the Caribbean, and live in a grass hut, digging in the sand with a stick, eating fruit we picked from the trees that morning? Is that really crazier than working in a basement cubicle for the next twenty years? Which scenario is more normal, more human? I don’t think humans were meant to live in boxes. Sometimes I’d rather get myself to a tropical beach, find a stick, and start digging.

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