How Stanley Found Me

In How I Found Livingston by Henry Morton Stanley, journalist Stanley recounts his epic search across Africa, looking for the missing explorer, Dr. David Livingston.

I started reading the book (over 700 pages) at least 15 years ago as research on available books circa 1872 that a person living then might have read. Somewhere around 375 pages in, I decided I got the basic idea and would slog through the next 300+ pages some other time.

Cut to today. I’m purging books I know I’ll never read again by reading them first (to see why I kept them), then donating them elsewhere if necessary. I found my bookmark in How I Found Livingston and decided to try a few pages, see if it’s still bone-dry, and either finish and purge, or just purge.

First, I saw this woodcut:

Y’all know how much I loves my trees.

Second, he says, it’s “the 1st of October.” Wait a second, that’s today! Coincidence?

Even so… “300 pages to go? I won’t be suckered into reading by coincidence! What is happening in the story? How does this even relate to my life today?”

And then I read this:

I am contented and happy, stretched on my carpet under the dome of living foliage, smoking my short meerschaum, indulging in thoughts—despite the beauty of the still grey light of the sky, and the air of serenity which prevails around—of home and friends in America, and these thoughts soon change to my work—yet incomplete; to the man who to me is yet a myth, who, for all I know, may be dead, or may be near or far from me tramping through just such a forest, whose tops I see bound the view outside my camp. We are both on the same soil, perhaps, in the same forest—who knows?—yet is he to me so far removed that he might be in his own little cottage of Ulva. Though I am even now ignorant of his very existence, yet I feel a certain complacency, a certain satisfaction which would be difficult to describe. Why is man so feeble, and weak, that he must tramp, tramp hundreds of miles to satisfy the doubts his impatient and uncurbed mind feels? Why cannot my form accompany the bold flights of my mind and satisfy the craving I feel to resolve the vexed question that ever rises to my lips—”Is he alive?” O! soul of mine, be patient, thou hast a felicitous tranquility, which other men might envy thee! Sufficient for the hour is the consciousness thou hast that thy mission is a holy one! Onward, and be hopeful!

~ Henry Morton Stanley, How I Found Livingston

Ugh. He got me. “Onward, and be hopeful!” That’s EXACTLY where I am at personally. And now I get it. Stanley wasn’t looking for Livingston, he was looking for meaning.

(Aren’t we all?)

I’ll be back soon. I have several hundred pages to read…

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