Communal wisdom states that “no man is an island,” but that is certainly not due to a lack of some of us trying to become one. Seppo Kemppainnen, the reluctant anti-hero in the new short story The Lucky Finn by VM Karren, is a master at burning the bridges that connect his island to anybody or anything else. Seppo’s only goal in life is to remain an island of solitude but finds luck conspiring against him, bringing him undesired good fortune…and too many neighbors!
Henry David Thoreau, the American writer and literary philosopher, in his classic work Walden (1854) gave the following sage advice to those hoping to find some mental space in this crazy world: “But I would say to my fellows, once and for all, as long as possible live free and uncommitted.” In this “DIY diary” Thoreau encourages those fed up with the modern world to go “…to the woods…to live deliberately,” as he did.
Thoreau held out for a few good years of living alone in the woods of Massachusetts in a cabin that he built with just an ax and a shoestring but admits that “(he) left the woods for as good a reason as (he) went there.” Seppo Kemppainnen would call Thoreau an amateur and if they ever were to cross each other’s paths in the snowy woods, would tell him that he (Thoreau) had failed to remain an island because he “thought too much and about too many things all at once.”
Seppo certainly would have agreed with Henry on many things, such as his belief in the saying; “The man whose horse trots a mile a minute is not carrying the most important message,” and certainly that bit about “staying uncommitted for as long as possible.” What they would eventually squabble about, while sitting around the potbelly stove on a bone-chilling winter night, is the question of the need to ever return to civilization. Thoreau would proclaim that he had “many more lives to live” and therefore was moving on to explore more of the world, abandoning his homestead in the forest. Seppo would reply (that is, if Seppo were to ever open his mouth to speak at all, to anybody) that he wouldn’t “want to waste his one, precious life listening to other people flap their gums at him”…and then go back to silently stirring the fire with his metal poker while Henry put on his hat and coat and left without another word–glad to be rid of him.
Even though Seppo or Thoreau wouldn’t fully agree about being an island or a peninsula, they would agree that in our society of twenty-four hour news cycles, endless notifications from the countless Apps, Cancel-Culture, and minimum payments on credit card balances we can’t remember racking up, that taking a moment to pause, to breathe, to chop a stack of firewood or to watch a bird build her nest, could do us all some good.
I invite you to suppress your FOMO, leave your phone in the house and spend two hours with Seppo Kemppainnen in the silent northern woods. Come sit on the shore of a snowy Finnish lake to watch the cosmic tide of stardust ebb and flow over your head in a clear night sky. Come take a breather as you listen to the roaring campfire melt the air around your frozen ears, and then, when you’re done, try to tell me that Seppo Kemppainnen is NOT the luckiest Finn that ever lived. I dare you!