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3/18/14

Richard Halliburton's Personality

"I'm very grateful, because I wouldn't take $1,000,000 for it." Richard Halliburton

In the human scheme of things, some are born lucky, some less lucky, and some unlucky.  None of us chose to be born nor did we choose the circumstances of our birth.  Among many possibilities, we could have come into the world as American, Canadian, Scottish, French, Mexican, Afghan, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, African, or Mongolian.  We could have had wealthy, middle-class, or poor parents.

We are born into chance.
Democritus said that everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance. A Yankees fan might find that to be oh, so true, and say that baseball imitates life. Players have winning streaks and slumps.  A hitter may go a season with a great RBI and next season find himself being struck out or sending fly balls straight to an outfielder.  That's also life.

As Forrest Gump said, Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you're gonna get. People and baseball players are like gamblers betting against the house, which has the odds stacked in its favor.  Sometimes they win; sometimes they lose.  Democritus' universe is the house, and it doesn't care if gamblers go bust.

By accident Richard was born with a predisposition he valued highly, knowing he was lucky.  Of his "restless nature" he wrote, "I'm very grateful, because I wouldn't take $1,000,000 for it."  It was precious to him because he had visions of the possible where others saw only walls.  He felt exuberance, a confidence, in realizing his visions, while his less gifted friends looked ahead to another step along the way to the rest of their lives.  There was in him an outlook that welcomed the world with open arms and his vitality fed its own increase.

He was extraordinarily gifted in disposition—his life attests to that, as it is one that few are able to parallel.  People could only read about all he did and saw because they were bound to the morning coffee and evening newspaper of their days.  In Halliburton they found somebody who had slipped the bonds holding them and with sometimes-wild energy delighted in a life that for them was not only improbable but impossible.  No, there wasn't any bad luck for Richard. He didn't see himself with any aberrancy. He saw himself as enabled, unlike those who did not feel as deeply, see as far, and move as passionately as he did.
. . . .

He chanced the edge of the possible because his energy demanded release and he considered life more vivid with risk.  Not a professional diver nor a good swimmer, Richard leapt off a cliff twice into the Well of Death, better known as the Sacred Well of Chichen Itza, in Yucatán, Southern Mexico—only one instance of his taste for risk.  Richard's narratives reveal repeatedly that for him emotional drive was attended by risk.  With the drive was his habit of thought, which was to plan for the next project, the next travel, the next adventure, and to build his life as he leapt from goal to goal.  His goals typically were large, requiring great commitment.  In Europe while Mike Hockaday saw the sights, Richard prepared for his future by keeping a writer’s journal, writing home that his vocation had begun.

In their globe-trekking flight together Moye Stephens observed that although Richard was not physically strong he had something, a panache that carried him through his adventures.  Asked in an interview about Halliburton’s impetuosity, Stephens said yes and no to the question.  Yes, in that impetuosity involved “everything he did, practically.”  No, in that Moye qualified his response with “he planned a lot of stuff.”  This planning was part of the goal-oriented Halliburton.  Stephens added, “But he was a very warm natured person, and very generous.”

Halliburton would have wholly rejected a physicalist explanation of his life and understandably so, for it wraps all up too neatly, leaving out the mystery of who he was, who we are.  It fits all into a neat, explainable box.  It omits his sense of beauty and the sublime, his deep feeling of life’s brevity, his urgent need to live while he had youth.  Only he gave meaning to his life.  The cells of his body were servants to his will.

His life was abnormal in the way that poetry is.  With his personality, enthusiasm, drive, and sensibilities he was dealt a hand in life that few people are lucky to receive.  He felt grateful and did not want his life limited in the way that many people limit theirs.  He wanted to do a thousand things, sing a thousand songs.  He saw possibilities and horizons where others saw caution and turned to protection in the herd.

Through his own perseverance and imagination he sought a channel for his biology and to his credit he found one in adventure-travel writing but that discovery lay ahead, not when he wrote from Princeton to his father during World War I and said, “There seems to be something in turmoil inside me all the time.  I intend to keep myself in control until the war is over and my education, and, then I’m going to bust loose and let my restless, discontented spirit run its course.  The idea of leading a monotonous confined respectable life is horrible to me.  Some day the fires inside are going to break out and I’ll push my working table out the window and just be a wild man.  I’ve got in the habit of running instead of walking.  Something keeps saying faster, faster, move!  It isn’t nerves.  I sleep like a log. I feel wonderful all the time.”

It isn’t nerves, he writes, meaning he feels no anxiety.  Indeed.  Anybody with anxieties would never dare to have done what he did.  He wants to be a wild man.  His roommates are tame men and he exercises will and choice to conform to collegiate expectations but after that—watch out.  He sleeps like a log.  He is on top of the world.

Richard bears witness to feeling more things and feeling them more deeply, having more experiences and having them more intensely.  He opened vibrantly to the springtime of his life, knowing it would soon end, and passionately felt the bird of time fleeting with but a little way to flutter.  He saw life with limitless possibilities and sought to spend his days joyfully, knowing he could not take them with him. For the breadth and depth of his vision, the vividness of his feelings, he would not have traded places with anybody. (Excerpt from Don't Die in Bed: The Brief, Intense Life of Richard Halliburton)

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