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View Diary: Book Club: Into the Wild (190 comments)

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  •  Reckless, but not unfathomably so (12+ / 0-)

    I have found the book and the movie highly engaging. My wife, not so much. She goes much more with the "pampered brat who got what he deserved" school of thought. I disagree, from two perspectives.

    First, I also, at the same age, took off traveling, and was gone for a year, hiking, climbing, seeing the world. I didn't have the same hostility toward my family that Chris had towards his, but I was reckless and invincible, just like Chris, and I wasn't too concerned with how my actions impacted others. I kept in touch mostly by letters, which I sent to friends and family constantly (these formed the basis of a book I later wrote which, alas, was never published). But if I had gotten into trouble, tracking me down from the letters would have at meant following a trail that was weeks old. As for recklessness, just as one example, I had no health insurance, paying no attention to the fact that had I suffered a debilitating injury, such as being hit by a car, it would have bankrupted my family who obviously would have mortgaged their houses and done whatever else would have been necessary to make sure I got whatever medical care I would have needed.

    I could give lots more examples of this type of heedlessness, but the point is I simply wasn't capable of making those judgments or seeing how my own actions impacted others. I'm not sure too many 22-year-old brains ARE capable of making that distinction. What I knew then and what I sympathize with Chris about is the desire to be free, really, FREE. No worries, just the open road and endless possibility. I had a slightly (and only slightly) better survival instinct than Chris, but I had some amazingly narrow escapes.

    Which brings me to the second perspective that I now see this from: Not only as older, more mature, more willing to consider the effects of my actions on others (and as a parent), but as a physician. Yes, being a parent has made me look more out beyond my own immediate needs and think of others first, but it was working as a trauma surgeon that really opened my eyes in this way.

    In trauma surgery, we see two kinds of patients: The first is the chronic f- up. They are always drunk, fighting, crashing cars, shooting at things, whatever. They gamble with fate too many times and in the end fate always wins. But the second kind were the ones who only gambled a little bit; just drove drunk once, just took that turn too fast one time, just said Yes to that too-pure line of coke one time. These are the ones that really made me change my thinking about people like Chris. Because some people who end up dead were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, they might have been speeding, but like no one else ever speeds? Sure the guy who drives drunk every night and ends up in a fiery crash is an idiot and deserves it. But what about the guy who did it once? A good friend of mine lost his son this way. 23, out late, took a turn to fast and didn't have his seatbelt on. Can any of you really sit there and say you've never taken any risk, never rolled the dice? If so, you must have led a damn boring life.

    So I do sympathize with Chris, but also with those who say he was heedless and reckless. For me, into the Wild is an example of recklessness taken too far. The lesson I take away is that, especially for young men, especially in these suburbanized, homogenized, incrementalized times, there is a barely distinguishable line between making your own way and playing with death. And making that distinction is that difference between survival and russian roulette.

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