by Lara Bryn | December 14, 2017 · 2:30 pm
Review: And Then I Am Gone: A Walk With Thoreau
Recap: A move to the Southern countryside is not cause for Mathias B. Freese to begin thinking about the end of his life — he’s been doing that for years — but it does trigger it. After all, he’s in his seventies, and this will likely be the place where he dies. Freese reflects on how he got to this moment — where he succeeded and where he stumbled — in his latest memoir. But he also asks the age-old question: What is the point? What is the true meaning of life? His latest book is an experimental dive into the question to which there is no answer. But he continues to ask it anyway. At times he writes of self-awareness. In other moments, he writes just to write, to pass time.
He reflects on the works of literary gods and philosophers to help answer the question. He takes long walks in the woods. He goes to the doctor to try and improve his health — or at least maintain it. He spends time with his new wife decorating and fixing up their new house. In this book he writes about not only a physical journey — his move to Alabama — but also his philosophical, emotional and spiritual journey.
Analysis: To sit and think for long periods about death, life and the meaning of it is beyond undesirable to most — it is sad, worrying and maybe even nauseating. That’s the way it is for Freese too. He does not pretend to be above the rest of us. That said, he still pursues it head-on in a way many wouldn’t have the guts to do. I certainly don’t.
There were moments, in fact, upon reading his memoir when I had to stop because the panicky thoughts of my own mortality were too much to bear. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a recent significant death in my family that has zapped a lot of joy out of me and injected me with a heavy dose of irritability and grief. But mostly, I think anyone would find these topics difficult. What is there but life, right? It is all we have. As Freese points out frequently, we spend so much time thinking about other things — mostly trivial — that we never sit and think about our life on a grander scale. I identified with Freese and his anxieties, which made his memoir feel all the more moving and important, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.