The First Sleepiness

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“It was his last moment of fear. When he had recovered his breath and his control, he sat and thought about meeting death with dignity.  However, the idea did not come to him in exactly this manner. His idea was that he had been acting like a fool. He had been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. He was certain to freeze in his present circumstances, and he should accept it calmly. With this newfound peace of mind came the first sleepiness. A good idea, he thought, to sleep his way to death. Freezing was not as bad as people thought. There were many worse ways to die.”

Jack London

To build a fire


This story has always chilled me (sorry for the bad pun) ever since I read it way back in high school.  It’s only about 15 pages and worth the read (here).  It’s about a man who foolishly heads out on an ill-advised journey in the Yukon on a day when it’s minus seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit.  He ends up falling into some water and after several failed attempts to build a fire he ultimately freezes to death.  His final struggle is described in great detail.

Most people who refer to the story talk about the merits of humility and preparedness or issue warnings about nature prevailing over man.  I look at it differently.  The man’s journey is a lot like our lives with one obvious exception; our lives are not yet over.

We set out on this journey not knowing where it will lead.  We make mistakes.  We fail to listen to wise counsel.  We set off in a direction not fully understanding what lies around the bend.  And now it’s too late for humility and preparedness to set things right.  We’re far down the path now and certain things have gone terribly wrong.  We’ve made some attempts to stick to the plan, but the plan seems to be falling apart.  We’ve lost our ability to feel and we’re starting to wonder how this thing will end.

One question remains… “is it time to let go now?”.  Letting go might feel nice.  Letting go could mean the end of the fear, the uncertainty and the tension.  We could get our bearing and think about how to make ourselves comfortable in the time that remains and work on making it look dignified.  There’s food and television and medication and a range of other options to help keep us occupied.

“A good idea, he thought, to sleep his way to death”.

This is the moment, right here, right now, that matters the most… when our choice between belief and acquiescence stares us straight in the face.  It’s not a physical death we’re talking about… its much worse.  It’s the loss of everything you were meant to bring to the world, and what a tragedy it is.

This is about living by faith and never letting go of the longing for something better.  It makes all the difference in the end.

I think the man should have kept walking.