Monday, April 30, 2012

The Great Migration

Why do people have to be this lonely? What's the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?
Haruki Murakami,
Sputnik Sweetheart

All over Paris, people are walking. They go in ones and twos and groups, but all together they seem to move as a herd. Along the sidewalks, through the museums and now, as I sit and watch, down the broad central pathway of the Jardin des Tuileries. Meg and I have dropped out of the flow and are taking in the great migration as it passes before us. Others nearby have paused as well. Some are taking photographs to remind them later where they have been, perhaps to help them find their way back. Soon enough, they and we will get up and re-enter the steady march.

It makes me wonder why we do this. There are obvious reasons, of course. A pleasant stroll on a beautiful day for relaxation and exercise. Many of us from other countries have come to explore the history and beauty of this great city. Seeing her helps us understand more about how we humans have come to be what we are today. This is why we stare at ancient art in the Louvre. This is why we are fascinated with archbishops and kings and their churches and castles.

I wonder whether there might be another reason too, one of which we are less consciously aware. In the past we were migratory by nature. Before we learned to plant grains and domesticate animals, we wandered for a living—literally. A tribe could linger in one place only as long as the food supply lasted. Then, it was move on or die. Perhaps our current wanderings are merely vestigial manifestations of that primitive instinct to search for new and better habitat.

I know that, in my own case, I have to keep moving. If I stay in one place too long, I begin to twitch. Whether it is a dinner table, a house or a job, after a time I need to get up and try something else.

We live inside our own heads. We have family and friends, sure, and we interact with others, but ultimately we are alone with ourselves. I think Haruki Murakami has shaded our longing too darkly, but restlessness may be a closer cousin to loneliness than I want to believe. The only difference may be that loneliness causes us to search for others, while restlessness leaves us searching for ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Nice thought. We ARE more like "animals" than we like to think!