I Can’t Stand It. I Been There Before

  At the behest of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took their “Corps of Discovery” across the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  Leaving St. Louis on May 14, 1803 they made their way across the wilderness to the coast of what is now Oregon and arrived back in St. Louis on September 23, 1806. 

  Clark went on to hold a number of governmental positions and fathered eight children (one named Meriwether Lewis Clark!) with two wives.  Lewis became Governor of the Louisiana Territory, had no children, and shot himself on his way to deliver journals of the expedition to a publisher.*  I’ve long wondered what was up with that.

  He’d been leader of the expedition and must have felt exhilaration of uncommon intensity upon journey’s end.  He’d operated successfully through thousands of miles of unknown territory and hardship compiling the first account of America’s west.  There could have been no measure of accolade equal in proportion to having returned with crew largely intact after those many dangerous and difficult months. 

  Perhaps that was just it.  The return to civilization was more than he could take.  Compared with the clear choices of life and death in the wilderness, a desk job and starched shirts must have chafed not only his neck.

  Jungian therapist James Hollis writes: “…whenever we force ourselves to do what is against our nature’s intent, we will suffer anxiety attacks, depression, or addictions to anesthetize the pain of this inner dislocation”.**

  A recent evolutionary rationale for depression holds that it is a ‘healthy’ manifestation of the psyche in response to spiritual/emotional/existential dis-ease.  Some way down a certain path, one finds it problematic, stews for a bit, and then chooses a new direction.  Three years must not have been enough for Lewis to recalibrate.

  He probably should have turned around.  Like at the end of Huckleberry Fin when our protagonist said: “…reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me.  And I can’t stand it.  I been there before.”

*Not all agree that Lewis took his own life.  Descendents of his sister hope to have his body exhumed to somehow prove that he was murdered.

**Hollis, What Matters Most, Gotham Books, 2009

***cf post of 2/20/08

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One Response to “I Can’t Stand It. I Been There Before”

  1. Andrew Wallace Says:

    The a-Peale of the topic is unmistakable.

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