Cameron Shorb

2009-2010 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

2010-ShorbCameron Shorb, age 16
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School
Sudbury, Massachusetts

The hallways of school were once a place for routine and tedium, until the day they suddenly seemed a vast Victorian garden, each of the bobbing heads of the masses a finely pruned topiary bush. I had left a young thought unattended, and when it came back from its wanderings it carried with it the analogy that came to haunt me: the practice of cutting hair is like the art of topiary.

The short haircut that I and most other boys wore had seemed unremarkable, even natural, to me, but it now struck as just as outlandish as the harshly geometric shapes or ghostly animal forms into which bushes were forced. I could get over the bizarreness and unnaturalness of the custom, but I could not tear my mind away from the fact that it was so arbitrary. There was a definite system to it all: shorter on the back, cut away from the ears, nowhere longer than an inch, yet for none of it could I find any reason. I didn’t completely understand why-after all, a more trivial issue than hairstyles could hardly be found-but I found that arbitrariness unbearable. A bush of untamed curls rose from my head by summer.

It was while relaxing in that season’s heat and reading Henry Thoreau’s Walden that I discovered that the same sentiments behind my hirsute revolution inspired this philosopher’s famous experiment: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” What a joy it was to have words to describe those unfamiliar intuitions that had moved me, so strong and yet so shadowy! But the greatest joy was yet to come. That sentence stuck with me, even sunk into me, more than any other ever has, and I began to live deliberately.

More and more I questioned the world around me-and I questioned myself. I was no longer satisfied with assumption. I wanted to know. And when I acted knowingly-deliberately-I experienced a singular sensation: one of ownership of my life. Society would continue to affect me, but by living deliberately I had the power to choose how. I was free to innovate, improve, and even conform, if I judged that to be wisest. With careful, intentional consideration, I could choose what I wanted in life and work to attain it.

So many people are discontent or unsatisfied with their lives not because they made bad choices but because they didn’t make any choice at all, and acted solely according to custom or convenience. Even the smallest things, like my abstinence from hair-cutting or Thoreau’s altering of his bread recipe, are significant to the cause of deliberateness, because they remind us that we whenever we look at the world in the new way, we can find some way to make it better.