“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Several years ago I read an article about a man who lived alone in the woods, for twenty-seven years. Allegedly, he had no human contact during that whole time, save for one, maybe two brief encounters with other people. His name was Christopher Michael Knight.
There are so many things about this story that are truly fascinating. For instance, he had no plan when he started. Literally. Additionally, he didn’t live in a cabin. Furthermore, his parents didn’t report him as missing. And, he stole food and equipment from others to service his way of life.
His story is told by Michael Finkel in a book entitled, “The Stranger in the Woods.” I purchased the Kindle version earlier this year and read it. There was no stated expectation on my part of encountering something transcendent, but it turns out the expectation was there nonetheless. I expected to encounter some deep insight. Seriously. After twenty-seven years of walking in a direction nobody else is walking, you will gain some insight, right?
In chapter 13 Finkel explores Knight’s motivations. At age twenty, Knight drove his car until he ran out of gas, tossed his keys onto the console and walked into the woods. Why? He didn’t know. There was simply no driving ambition or pursuit that motivated Knight. He didn’t care much for people though. He didn’t have deep relationships with others so there were no strong relationships.
Finkel explores the three main categories of hermits: protesters, pilgrims, pursuers. Knight was none of these. This baffled Finkel. Where does Knight fit. My sense is that Knight was not motivated by anything noble. At all. This is why he doesn’t fit common hermit categories. Let me develop this thought.
Knight left his family without telling them. Ok. Furthermore, he wanted to get away from people because the modern machine was not to his taste. Ok. How then did he sustain this life choice? He took from others. He made raids on cabins and took food, batteries, and clothes. He took tents, sleeping bags, containers, and about anything else that he found useful. He broke in at night or when families were away. He was a very skilled thief.
Some people wrote notes and implored him to indicate what he needed and they would give it to him. Others were literally traumatized by this unknown, unseen, mysterious stranger who would invade their privacy and take things. Year after year, he would take things. There was no relationship here. It was simply business. You have something I need; I’ll take it when you are not watching. Why not ask people? He didn’t want to engage people. Yet, the very people he didn’t want to engage possessed things he wanted.
This behavior reflects a cynical view of people. People are beneath me, they service me, but I don’t want to know them. It doesn’t seem that Knight disliked people at a personal level. He just didn’t want to be around them or engage with them in any significant way.
In chapter 22 Finkel explores the wisdom that might come from twenty-seven years of hermitology. He wondered what grand insight would come to a man who experienced what Knight had experienced. Just as Thoreau had said, “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” So, Finkel questioned him directly on what he had gained from all of this. Answer? Knight replies,
“Get enough sleep.”
I read this with astonishment. This is what life is all about?
This can make you think. How would I answer this? Being a Christian, I know that Jesus said to love God and your neighbor. This is what it all boils down to. Practically, I’m experiencing this but I have to say there are times when my answer might be otherwise.
If we do whatever we do with excellence and great precision and do not love others, everything we do is a waste. If we have love then whatever we do will have lasting and eternal value.