A few years ago, Sean Penn directed a movie entitled Into the Wild. The movie is based on the eponymous book by Jon Krakauer. Both tell the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a 1990 graduate of Emory University who, after graduation, decided to give away most of his worldly possessions and make his way toward a simpler life in Alaska. After spending some time traveling around the country, McCandless made it to Alaska, where he lived in an abandoned bus. He died there (from either poisoning or starvation) in 1992.
I had never really heard of Chris’ story until I graduated from Emory in 2006, and I only heard about it at that point because a film crew was there to capture some scenes from our quite picturesque graduation for use in what was then the upcoming film.
Many labels have been affixed to the story of Christopher McCandless…tragic, romantic, disheartening, inspiring, courageous, etc. I myself have mixed feelings regarding how one should view it…on the one hand, it is inspiring to see a person who stands up against what they consider to be corrupt, but on the other hand it is tragic that this person did so in a way that led to their death (Chris was grossly unprepared for life in the Alaskan wilderness, and his story might have ended differently if he bothered to bring a map with him).
The reason for this post is that just yesterday I was reading something that touched on the topic of monasticism…for some reason, I though of Chris’ story. My question is, can we consider this trek into the Alaskan wilderness to be a form of monasticism in any sense of the word? I don’t really have an answer.