Food & Drink Magazine

Craving an Adrenaline Rush? Do Something Selfless.

By Rachelmariestone @rachel_m_stone

Hate me if you must, but I am not a fan of Cheryl Strayed's book Wild, and I don't ever plan to see the movie.

Why? Because Strayed's choices were foolish, and could have ended very, very badly for her.

I know that she acknowledges this. Still, she frames the story as a story of redemption, without necessarily acknowleging, to my satisfaction, the utter foolishness of much of what she did, much of which is apparent to anyone acquainted with the most rudimentary principles of outdoor life.

By contrast, Aron Ralston - the climber who severed his own arm when it was pinned by a boulder - tells his story in a way that is compelling and redemptive and takes complete responsibility for the perilous situation he put himself in.

This is debatable, I suppose, but I was completely unsatisfied with the film adaptation of Into the Wild, which, by my lights, seemed to pain Chris McCandless in exactly the light he would have once painted himself...until he saw how his romantic notion of living in the wild would end.

Young people with underdeveloped prefrontal cortices and excesses of testosterone do daring things. It is almost as if they need to do it. I get that, even though I have never acted remotely daring.

(On the contrary - I borderline on the pathologically safety-obsessed.)

Yet there is something in us - all of us - that craves to feel truly alive. Being outdoors does that for a lot of people. So does hard work - especially hard physical work - and even a measure of pain. People pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of suffering in a gym or in an ultramarathon or the like.

We are made to do hard things and overcome them. I think that is true.

But I also think that it is true that we can spend that urge foolishly and selfishly, doing things that are the equivalent of playing Chicken with the laws of the universe, daring it to bend to our self-destructive bent, only to find that the universe is strangely inflexible, red in tooth and claw.

If I have a point here, it is not to say that rugged jaunts into the great outdoors are selfish. Rarely do I feel as worshipful and at rest as I do when I am amidst the peace of wild things.

Rather, I want to say something about the thirst for daring, that inner rowdiness that young men have spent on battlefields from the beginning of human history. I want to say this: that the urge to do hard things, things that are costly and risky, can be spent in the service of justice, of peace, of mercy.

Risk takers might consider joining in efforts to provide safe burials to Ebola victims, I daresay. Or offering a peaceful presence in violent areas. Or joining the local volunteer fire department.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a vain daredevil of a young man who pursued the holy life after reading about great deeds of saints and thinking he might one-up them. His religious order is named for the One who said that his followers should deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.

That challenge seems more than bold enough.

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