Posted by: vlibrizzi | April 14, 2009

Life the way Thoreau would like it…

One of my favorite books to discuss with my students when I was a teacher (Boy ,that life seems like a long time ago..) was Walden by Henry David Thoreau. At first my students dreaded reading Thoreau’s long-winded tome, by the end of the book, they’d all come to the realization that life is best lived more simply, and most students would come to find a soft spot in their hearts for the geeky philosopher.

But me, I was an extreme case. I would get so excited by his ideas!

Each year I re-read his book I would find new parts that would seem to speak to me at that particular point in my life.

One year, I even got so “crazy for Henry” that I started asking kids WWTT? Or, What Would Thoreau Think? in any particular situation in life they would have to encounter. 

For example, when a student was feeling down about not being able to get into college or would be complaining to me about not understanding how to write a particular essay, I would ask, WWTT? and would point them to the famous Thoreauvian passage, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Or, if a particular set of students were gossiping about which new clothes to buy, or who had the best new car, I would turn from the chalkboard and cheerily pipe in, asking, “WWTT?” and would then point them to one of my favorite Thoreauvian quotations: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

I realize that all of this WWTT stuff makes me look a little bit geeky (and perhaps I am a bit of a geek, like my dear friend Henry David), but I really believe there is a lot to learn from him, and I wanted to make sure that my students saw that too.  

So today, for the first time in many months, I practiced what I used to preach and asked myself, “What Would Thoreau Think…about the way I’m living my life here?” 

img_2389So I started to take stock in my life in France.

Well, for example, I spent my day today taking a walk in the woods with friends (and getting so lost that we had to ask for directions from some very friendly French hikers…see my photo to the left of my friend with the hikers and their huge map), having a long lunch with friends, falling asleep while reading a book in the sunshine (ugh…How am I ever going to get through Crime and Punishement?!?!),

img_2394and then having a really interesting book club (see photo to the left) with friends that turned into a riveting discussion of immigration experiences.

Then, when I sat down to write this blog entry, I came back to Henry and tried to think of what he would think of how I’m doing. Am I living my life simply? Am I trying to be inquisitive and learn as much as I can from others and the nature around me? 

img_2393While I was thinking, I stumbled upon this quotation from Walden, 

“You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.”

…and then, it all clicked. 

That is exactly what I am doing.

I am sitting (or living) in the woods, in some  (very!) attractive spot (Fontainebleau), and am meeting all of it’s wonderful, interesting inhabitants (friends, students, French citizens, classmates, neighbors, etc.). 

And, that is exactly what, I think Thoreau would like.

So, I think I’m on track…

either that, or today was just a really good day.



  1. Lovely Post!

    Although I have to admit to you that I really, really, really hated reading Walden in high school. Then again, I hated almost everything I read in that class. Maybe I should attempt a ‘re-read’ now that I’m older 😉

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