Just Over the Horizon

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Matt Geiger

Within a few generations, I’m sure our human species will populate new planets, starting from scratch in our infinite attempts to establish the perfect civilization. If you look back at the route we took to get where we are today, it is characterized by one thing: We are always moving, always searching, always being chased by predators or chasing prey, as we make our way through life. It is only the occasional island population that ends up staying put, in some cases, and evolving in place for a few hundred or a few thousand short years.

I don’t know where this urge to move comes from. After all, we usually feel safest right here, in a place where we are familiar with the terrain and the places where danger might lurk. Perhaps it is a result of the fact that we live out our lives dancing atop a spinning orb, and therefore we spend our time here always beckoned to by a horizon and the mystery just beyond it.

There was a Bronze Age teenager called “The Egtved Girl,” who died on a summer day in the year 1370 BC, which was about 3,390 years ago. She was buried in an oak coffin, her body cloaked in a short tunic and a knee-length skirt crafted from cords. Over her womb, she wore a large disc of bronze, which likely symbolized the sun. Alongside her in the coffin, under the ground, lay various items: a bone comb, an awl, a bucket of beer, some jewelry, and a bundle of clothing containing the cremated bones of a small child. The girl was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old. It’s unclear if the child was hers.

There is an element called strontium that lies beneath our feet, in the bedrock of this planet. It makes its way into nearly every living (and non-living) thing, and then into us, through our food. By analyzing it, and by looking at her clothes, archeologists were able to determine that the Egtved Girl likely traveled at least 500 miles in her life, from the Black Forest of Germany to the part of Denmark where she was interred. In fact, she likely made the trip, on foot, twice, (probably because she was not yet old enough to drive a car).

If she lived today, we would think–and she would think–that her real life had not yet begun.

Because if she lived today, she would be a freshman or sophomore in high school, and she would not know work, or love, or loss, or the perils and wonders of the forest the way she did in her real time.

And if she lived today, she would likely be confused about just how important, or unimportant, she really was, just as we all seem to be now. Because we are each no more than tiny embers in a screaming, climbing fire of life, and we will each flicker, for our moment, be it in the Bronze Age or today, and be gone. Even entire civilizations–rising and falling, Egyptian, Incan, Grecian, American–will rise and crumble and be little more than a pop or a spark in this unfathomably large campfire around which I like to think the gods sit and tell their stories during an eternal night.

It is not only us and our lives that move. Emotions, too, are never complacent. We often misspeak and say, “I am happy” or “I am angry.” But in truth, our feelings are not us, nor are they our entire identities. What we really should say is that we “feel happy” or “feel angry,” because we do not own our emotions, and they should not own us. They inhabit us, for a time. But they, like us, are always on the move, always searching for new places to live, for a little while, until they–like us–move on again. 

Today was my 41st birthday. At around 2:30, my dog, a 140-pound great Pyrenees mix, took his final breath. As I think about it, I realize that he was not breath. He was not air. Yet it moved through him in his life, a breeze of existence that kept him alive, until it finally died down, and he, lying in our lawn on a plush bed of dandelions, died–but remained. He was changed, but as I can attest after lifting his limp form up, he was still very much real, and still very much here in the world. We are not the things that flow through us. We are only a place where they set up camp for a few cosmic nights, before picking up and moving on, to seek something new, just over the horizon.

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