Finding, what lost is
Fall shows magic in subdued, humble tones. Look up. No matter how fast you may be moving, all will seem still. Far above and all around, the world appears tired and withered. Up there, seeping through the heavy air, is a grey and white hardened mist. Not cold like snow. Not fluffy like marshmallow. No. Breathe it in to know it is dense and sure. The earth is altering its compositional habits. It plods on with stubborn determination. That’s Autumn’s backdrop.
In my memories, the Autumn foreground is filled in by rolling rural Ontario. I used to watch from a comfortably crumpled position in the back seat. Car journeys let me merge into a lengthy lull, where I existed within the simple silence of a singular timeline. Looking out, the colours would blur. Yellow. Red. Brown. Beige. Yellow, red, brown, beige. Out there, it was dry, but strong. Strong enough to assure me that the outstretch of seemingly feeble fields and grey twigging trees would hold steadily against the oncoming catapults that Canada catches from above each winter. As a five year old, I’d lean back against the side of our car and try to make my eyes roll along with the speed of the journey. I tried to stop that inevitable blur of time passing. But even the fact that I am looking back down that long road, on those attempts, means that I failed. I was a resolutely determined small mound and I tried, without even knowing I was trying. I’d trained my eyes to sprint to the speed of the ongoing highway. I wanted to see it all. I wanted to understand what all that space could be to someone. Surely there had to be some meaning to someone at each somewhere we passed. The steadfast consistency of sky was more understandable than the jumble of the ever growing, never greens. Up above, there seemed to be rules. The cloud’s wisped shadows of grey must have been scattered with a purpose. It was the most solid of un-solid colours, yet it existed with stubborn consistency, only to be broken by dots of inky black that travelled across the colourless sea in a steady and solid “V”.
Birds follow the communal rulings of late fall’s brinking changes. All things alive knew, it was a time of alteration; a temporary stop off of the unusual. On the surface, all existed within a murky layer of calm patience. Lives seemed to await time’s inevitable tick.
As a five year old, already impatient of the journey I’d been dragged into, my eyes were quick to spot the movement amongst what seemed to be a sleeping skyline. That day, my eyes watched time fly. The movement of the ink dot “V” formation called time into action. Together, they flew away. It indicated the start of a new season.
But breaking the unmoving wispy grey they’d flown over, was a single spot of ink. A lingerer. Wait. Stop. Back. Go back. Too late is too late which means not good enough. My insides screamed for the other birds to notice, to care. If they could just wait. It seemed a whole lifetime of wrong brimmed against these moments of increasing separation. 911 on 401. Such a disastrous effect from one moment of mistake. As if one of the lines in a rule abiding set of parallel eternities had shifted, just to one degree (One degree of alteration can forever separate parallel lines). Could the bird know that one degree would be the reason for a life apart? The “V” had rules they obeyed in order to stay together, like the highway below, they followed them with automatic, internalized practice. But. There was a lingerer. She was left to crash. It had happened all within the speed limit. Though the line of traffic moved along as was expected, I didn’t. I was looking out the back window, at a speck that would forever be parted from the pack. It seemed to me, at five, that this was as heart wrenching a sorrow the world could produce. Winter had begun.
This bird was alone. Separated and individually challenging the weather’s wethers. Had she lagged just for a second? This bird was behind. This bird was lost. Her path had altered to the smallest of degrees, and yet it would lead her to a whole new life. To my eyes this bird was flying into solitary density, there was so much less than nothing I could do for this far away friend. Lost to all family, connections, and to all regulations of what must be. Lost to the world. Where would she shelter? How would she fight through the storms? How could she possibly manage to find the flight path back to all the others. How could she, alone.
When you’re flying, how do you know you’re going the right way? Birds follow internalized, instinctual rules. Could it be they’re born already knowing their heart – that place where peace, hope and love is allowed to exist within you. Where you don’t have to doubt your destination. Perhaps not, though by appearance, they seem to know their hearts, there cohesive path follows pre-set rules. It is an instinctual movement. But it allows them to move within the flow of time, they lead their lives ahead of the cold. They have a destination. They know where safety is. They are destined to get there. Together, a “V” emerges against the greying changes of Autumn. Everything moves, always. From the car below, I was moving along far more quickly than I could have known or would have wanted. But I couldn’t see those changes as they crept through signposts that flashed by. It all blurred. Yellow, red, brown, beige. These aren’t the real colours the world is used to. It’s a season when trees splinter their insides out, they stoically await far colder a challenge. They will be hidden for frigidly slow months. They’ll be, but they won’t really truly be there. Empty winter is not their time. They say goodbye as each burst of unreal colour leaves them and floats dryly down to join that crinkled life on the ground below.
Time flew by me in a windy way. Winter came. Many winters. It was years later when I found myself very solidly still. There was no highway, and yet the colours still blurred. Looking around, I realized I’d somehow migrated to that solitary place myself. I hadn’t outrun the Winter, but without meaning to, at some point I must have lingered, for I looked around and realised there’d been so many accidental degrees of change, I had no hope of finding my way back to the migrating pack. I had no destination, and no instincts to indicate the path towards safety.
When nothing surrounds you in every direction, there is so much more than just “lonely”. So much more than mere terror. I thought I knew nothingness before, but there’s always more nothing to stretch your emptiness. A vast dry desert of cracked dusty heaps of nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Help. Not having a home is living amidst constant storm. When there’s nowhere to land, there’s nowhere to settle your heart, no place to set your head. It disrupts all adhesives within you and breaks you slowly apart. It’s like tripping into the core soul of anxiety. Suddenly, nothing is certain, nothing is stable. Nothing can rest or be still. It is all moving. Moving too fast and in all the wrong directions. This is doubt. This is living with the belief that no path can be clear, and no answer can be correct. All is tangled when you cannot rest.
No one really knows. Not unless they’ve truly flown through it. Through the nothing. It was nothing like the “lonely” I thought I understood. The sound of that word will always dart through my insides with sharp, rusted edges. It’s a word whose clatter echoes hollowly through me, unheard by the outside world. Those who were able to follow the expected path, without lingering, without getting lost in stray winds- can’t claim to understand the word’s true meaning. You can tell when the hollowness comes from their misunderstanding of the word, instead of from misunderstanding that lives inside them. To them, lonely is just a word. I suppose partly, it is. Just a word existing because of a feeling. A feeling someone felt, and needed to explain. So they named it. They tucked it into a neat, definable box, and hoped they’d feel better. Alone, lonesome, lonely, lost. Once you’ve truly been there, It unravels. It unwinds. It won’t fit in it’s box. It flutters out and escapes. There’s nothing neat about it. For it will flap its fearful wings through all you know. It feels like it is all you know. It is everywhere, and you’re nowhere. Nowhere, no one, nothing, none. Alone, lonesome, lonely, lost.
At five, I’d felt for that lonesome lingerer. That bird who journeyed behind the pack. I’d thought then, that I knew what tragedy she would face. But you cannot claim you know lonely, not until you’ve known true lingering loss. Eternal unrest is not being able to belong. When every destination is only another brief stop – “I’m missing out, I’m late, I’ve made a mistake.”
“Where are you? Where do you live?” If there’s no answer to give, do I count at all? Not fully.
But also, having flown the isolating path, I have strength. I used to think being lost meant being tragic. But when, at times, I can glance abstractly at the pain, I see that perhaps straying from the pack was not only inevitable, but necessary for that small backseat mound that I was. I remember looking at each somewhere we passed, and wanting there to be a reason for it all. Surely each somewhere that passed has some meaning for someone.
Winter passes. Spring buds look fragile and feeble, but they’ve known what it is to survive underground in dark, cold isolation. When their time comes, thread-thin stems of pale green will overpower the rigid crust of their frozen prison. There’s nothing easy about it. It is a force of magic that occurs yearly. It’s a miracle that somehow we’ve come to expect. But it needs to be known, that not all survive such dark isolation, some don’t feel their path has any possibility of making sense. It cannot be taken for granted. But, if you have the stamina to experience being truly lost, and you see what lonely truly is, it is true that you find heart. The best part about that is, it’s not even a destination, it can be found mid-flight, at any point of your journey. I like to think that lost leads to lonely, which if survived, will lead to heart, which, with nurture, leads to finding your head. I like to think now, that lost, is what leads to found. Not found by the others, and the expected migration path, but found by a more eternal and personal destination. Now, instead of thinking the lost lingerer was trying to follow the rules, I like to think it was following its heart.