Do you consider the lost places? Of course why would you, you who read this. You are probably American, from Seattle or Miami or Biloxi. If its early morning, before your day starts you have a fresh cappuccino steaming in front of you just prepared in a fancy machine that spits and hisses at you and the aroma is clearing the cobwebs from your head; if its in the evening maybe you just popped open a bottle of Cabernet that you and your spouse bought last weekend on a drive through wine country. There is so much wine country in America these days, as our tremendous bounty overflows into the rural places giving us the chance to chase after that which gives us joy. Even Tennessee, where I spent Christmas, has ‘wine country’ these days.
I suppose you do not consider the lost places in your daily travails. Your questions are more prescient, more imminent – as they should be. Are you raising your children right? Will you have enough saved up for retirement? What will you do when your father reaches that age; when he needs some more help? A home, those are expensive and somewhat unfeeling; but there are not enough rooms in your house, and how would you make it work? Maybe you are headed for divorce; maybe you have money troubles and are struggling to make ends meet or maybe even addiction has you wondering whether today will finally be that day when you can make it to the end with your head unfogged, and you are using some early morning reading to distract yourself from that existential epic battle for today. Our lives are not easy, we Americans – we still struggle and rage and weep and dream despite the tremendous bounty. In fact we sometimes forget the bounty, nobody thinks of what they have – but what they don’t have. Nobody compares themselves to those who live at the fringes, in the lost places, but instead to their neighbors down the street or the politician who did not earn his second house. We are not as those who caricature us would make us seem, are we?
But in all this do you consider the lost places? Places far away and forgotten and mired in such corruption and despair that they might as well be otherworldly – prehistoric or on a distant planet where a great war rages.
But that far you do not have to go, to reach the lost places. They are relatively near, take my word for if for I come and go regularly. Consider the picture above – look closely, for though it looks to be the underarm of the world it is in fact one of our own lost places; refugees fleeing across an invisible border in Africa to a country which looks the same. And you ask yourself, who would inhabit such a place? Willingly, even unwillingly? Now look closer, and closer, and closer still to the far bottom left of the picture where you will see a woman with her little boy, or perhaps it’s a little girl. Can you consider her? For her child is not that different from yours (or mine). Withdraw from you, withdraw from me the bounty of ages and the family networks and our massive (sometimes) benevolent state programs of protection and then plunge us into war and we, you and me, might very well be sitting together on a parched piece of land waiting… waiting… waiting… But for what? Do not let’s ask, for the answer will not satisfy, even if it ever comes.
Why do I bring this up, why trouble you on this bright winter morning when you have your own worries, worries like those mentioned above which are not trivial though there are those who might try to make you think so. Why do I invade your quiet world with lost places not only outside of your sphere but far away from your ability to influence? It’s a fair question, I suppose its because I am American too and my house back home might very well be next to yours; but I do have to consider the lost places. Driving to work with my little boy in his expensive car-seat listening to Elmo beside a street corner where there sits a woman with twins. Did you know twins are “evil” in many parts of Africa? Did you know they require to be sacrificed, or face banishment if they are not—? To sit on a street corner and wait for the compassion of strangers. Videos of mutilations and carnage and terror; fear – yes we can fear, fear of bad men who would do us harm and fear for a small American boy thrust into the mayhem unawares. Yes I have to consider these things because their wars have become my wars – to be sure by my choice but nevertheless can one ever un-choose once life’s decisions are made and we go where the raging river takes us? Can one ever walk away?
What does he want? You say to yourself, perhaps with mild annoyance. Nothing, nothing at all. For if I were not here I probably would not consider these lost places either. But what do I hope? That’s a different thing. I hope for kindness. I hope for an end to the viciousness which forced me to leave Facebook and Twitter, though lost as I am I did rely on those tools to connect with family. But it was not worth the refuse. I hope for common sense, decency and above all a little bit of compassion not for those afflicted in foreign wars, but for each other seated as we are amid the bounty. I hope that we all think, that we all remember that places become lost first in the mind, and are quickly followed by the body and then the soul – and then a whole land plunges away. Yes, turns out I do want something, me who is far away and fighting a war not my own. Please do not turn our land of plenty into a lost place, responding to your small frustrations and petty jealousies. Before you do – consider these my lost places, for they could be yours too, ours too. They could always be, for there is nothing special about America except that which is in our heart and our soul and our consciousness. And those are fragile things indeed.