A beautiful woman came and sat at our table. We have known her for many years. She was married to a good friend of ours who died one year ago on New Year’s Eve. Anna is an artist and a mother. A few years ago she ran away, back to the country of her birth, Denmark. She took virtually nothing with her: a few photos of her sons, an unbelievably small amount of money, and a little red book that contained the addresses of the good people in her life. From her new home she divorced her then-husband and married another Dane. Not long after that he suddenly died. He was still young. Anna has loved well and is loved by all. Her grown sons adore her. “Do you still have the little red book?” I asked. “Yes, of course,” she said, “and there is something very special in it that has meant a great deal to me.” She took the book from her purse and showed me a page with the cryptic quote attributed to Jack London:
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in
magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Jack London was a man of courage. He held that “it takes courage to go, and courage to stay.” His wanderlust had him cram several lifetimes into his 40 years. His books of adventure and human struggle are still widely read. “The Call of the Wild,” is one of the best dog stories ever written.
In the holiday season people come back together for the sake of family and friends. It’s a time of joy and happiness and in some places even peace. It’s also a time to reassess and review our lives and the lives of others. To all of the Anna’s of this world, we say, “Good going.”
PS: “Imagination is everything. Imagination is the voice of daring.” (Henry Miller, also from Anna’s book)
Esoterica: Jack London (1876-1916) wrote 50 books in 17 years. His principle was to keep going to new locations in order to gain inspiration and a sense of place. He started as a journalist in San Francisco, travelling to the South Pacific, the Klondike, England and other places. An alcoholic, he died by his own hand at his ranch in California.
This letter was originally published as “Call of the Wild” on December 21, 2001.