I have an appreciation for the classics in literature. I like the author Thomas Hardy. I’ve slogged through War and Peace and can’t tell you much about the giant novel except there are too many characters of which to keep track. Les Miserable offers great lessons about grace. I had to read The Scarlet Letter twice, the second time very slowly, to understand the full magnitude of a wonderfully written and emotionally entwining work of art. And I’m presently enjoying Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
DeFoe touches on a myriad of subjects. The novel leads with this idea about balance, that it is neither poverty nor riches that one should seek but rather the “middle state” of life. It is what Robinson Crusoe’s father hopes his son will attain. But Robinson wants adventure, not “middle state” comfort. And so against his father’s wishes, Crusoe sets off on an adventurous life on sea, only a short time later to be cast into slavery and poverty.
He escapes to freedom and riches. But the adventurous bug never releases its hold on him. He is asked to once again set sail on the seas for a distant land knowing full well the dangers of ocean travel. This time Crusoe nearly loses his life as the ship he is on meets its match with a horrendous storm at sea. Crusoe, along with the crew, abandons ship in a small escape boat which is crushed by the storm. Only Crusoe survives, washed ashore to a lonely multi-year existence on a lush island. Crusoe in his loneliness learns to be self sufficient yet encounters fear that he may not be alone, or that he will be mauled and eaten by wild animals roaming on the island. And so he builds a fortified compound, in which he lives, to keep any intruders out and maintain his safety.
The words in boldface-type in the previous paragraph denote many of the subjects DeFoe asks his readers to consider. As I’ve been engaging this work I’m thinking about all of these subjects in more modern-day contexts, and how we continue to wrestle with them. In a nation plagued by partisanship, would a “middle state” of balance be more attractive, and more productive? What are the dangers of being adventurous in our work, our religion, our day to day living? Do these dangers threaten our lives and if we are fortunate enough to survive them, what awaits us around the corner? Do we end up alone yet self-sufficient but fearful of new dangers? Do we in our striving for survival build walls for our personal safety, both physical and emotional?
I’ve yet to reach the conclusion of the novel and learn about what happens to Crusoe. But I’m not all that interested to know how the story ends. I’m fascinated by the journey and the wonderful life-lessons along the way. In like fashion I’m not all that interested in the end of the journey called life. Granted, I know it will come to an end someday, but meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the adventure and hopefully learn from all the storms and fears and ups and downs and hopes and dreams and…
DeFoe, in my view, is masterful at helping us, through Robinson Crusoe, engage in the adventure of life. And what an adventure it is!