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Happiness is only real once shared

Originally Appeared in : 9901-1/3/19
I recently watched a movie released in 2007.  I had heard it was excellent, but the plot did not intrigue me: a young man goes hiking in Alaska and dies shortly before returning to civilization because he mistakenly eats poisoned berries.  I had been terribly wrong for years.  The story of Christopher McCandless is extraordinarily moving.  It is a story of discovery, healing and sadly, premature death.
 
In a move that closely resembles Saint Francis of Assisi, the new college graduate McCandless gave away his savings to charity, refused a new car from his parents, destroyed his identification cards, and set off on an adventure with nothing but a backpack.  He rejected the materialistic world in which he was raised, despising both hypocrisy and concern for what others would think.  During the two years that McCandless wandered thousands of miles throughout the United States as “Alex Supertramp” rejecting his upbringing and seeking healing, he could not help but to be a product of his past.  He may have chosen to direct his life down a different path, but nothing he did could erase his past – the new direction of his life was a direct response to his upbringing. 
 
Christopher made significant acquaintances as he traveled.  Even though he never contacted his parents and sister, he shared tremendous wisdom with those he met and forged meaningful relationships.  His greatest adventure would be the same one that took his life: spending time alone in the wild of Alaska.  For over 100 days, Christopher lived in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail near the town of Healy.  During those days he hunted, he wrote, and he read his favorite authors which included Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Leo Tolstoy.
 
Seeking purpose and healing alone in the Alaskan wilderness, it is significant that Christopher wrote the following line toward the end of his adventure: “happiness is only real once shared.”   This independent young man who fled from his family and was unwilling to lay down roots realized that happiness is only attained when shared with others.  Perhaps this epiphany triggered his desire to return to civilization?  Unfortunately this never happened and he died alone in the abandoned bus, wrapped inside his sleeping bag.  The movie Into the Wild magnificently captures this heart wrenching tragedy.
 
Alone in the wild, McCandless understands that as a human person he must share who he is with others in order to achieve happiness.  In the Trinity, the three divine persons are constantly sharing themselves with each other, and we who are created in the image and likeness of God, imitate God more perfectly when we too share ourselves through relationship with others.  Saint Francis of Assisi understood this and created communities of friars so that in sharing in a common life, they would achieve happiness.  The wisdom of McCandless undoubtedly captures the nature of our God who exists in eternal relationship and our experience of finding happiness only when we share ourselves with others.  It is a despicable tragedy that Christopher McCandless was robbed of the opportunity to put his own wisdom into practice.  May he rest in peace.
 
Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah and resides in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah.
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