Tuesday, August 4, 2009

all who wander are not lost

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

There is within all of us, I suppose, a desire to wander. The desire is an existential need - thus, not only must we stare into that dark well, but with blind faith jump in and see where it takes us. Were this desire not present, the human species would have remained quite content in the savannahs of Africa where the weather is fair and the food plentiful. But something stirring within all of us has driven us to the most remote corners of the world - to the coldest climes of Tierra del Fuego in South America and the frozen northern polar cap, as well as to the driest sands of the Sahara and the Gobi deserts.

What spurs us on to leave our homes is an existential need to know. Whether it was Alexander the Great marching with his army to the ends of the world, Marco Polo traveling to distant Cathay, or Christopher Columbus sailing west to go east, each of us desires to experience the unknown and unseen.

The need is weaker in some families than others. Were it not so, civilization would not take root and grow. For there is also within the human genetic code a need to take root and possess the land from which we were born. This need is what creates the villages, towns, and nations in which we live. The territorial imperative of mammals is widespread and more so in the human species. While this imperative fosters civilization, it also is the reason for the many wars that the human species has fought over the millenia. Often these wars have been fought over land without any real value, or in conflicts that bear no relationship in the number of lives lost to the value of the territory fought over. The Falkland Islands over which Great Britain and Argentina fought is but one example.

My family like so many others is one that demonstrates this conflict well. I am the product of men and women who left their native countries as well as the product of soldiers who stood and fought for principle and country.

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