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El Camino del Tiempo

We are migrants, one and all, on el Camino del Tiempo, where even the housebound and hunkered-down awaken each morning somewhere they were not yesterday. We’ve emerged from the mists of history and the dreamtime of an infant’s amnesia, and set forth by wildly disparate means of conveyance toward the receding horizon. Signs signal a tomorrow around the bend, but tomorrow is a ghost-town appearing only on the maps, and you can’t get there from here.

So here we are, and there we go, by bullet train or afoot across the trackless wastes, but always on el Camino. Always schlepping our blood on its way down the generations. Always the short skirts and tight pants of the baby-making dance, and the will to carry on.

I marvel at the elaborate ruses concocted to transport one’s genes down el Camino. Marvel at the termite tenacity of these roadside encampments we call cities. Marvel at the hive-life of our super-organism, striving for a meal and a place to sleep and a place to dance the baby-making dance. I shudder at the nighttime photos from space of our settlements glowing golden. Earth burning like the oil lamp it’s become. And between the cities lies the darkened land, yet to trade stars for streetlights.

No progeny will follow me down this road. There’s not a paternal bone in my body. Keeping my own undies clean seems challenge enough. So, though straight, the slang term “breeder” doesn’t fit so well, funny as it may be. Yet, through the miracle of marriage and stepchildren, I have become a grandfather, while skipping the horrifying responsibilities of parenthood. After a lifetime of inattention I now marvel at maternal instincts, and find toddlers strangely compelling, as if some dormant grandpa gene has finally been expressed. And I have witnessed grandmotherly love, a force beyond reason or reckoning. A force to coddle generations along el Camino, bearing all things cozy and wise.

The child in his cardboard box pretending to be racing down the road, is racing down el Camino! The old man forgetting his way, remains on el Camino nonetheless. The dumb beasts and the talking beasts share this thoroughfare, share it with the sun and all it shines on. Yet, some ride in the back seat looking at videos, not at the real-time road or the live-stream way, but squinting in the glare of here-and-now at souvenirs from someone else’s journey, someone else’s trip down el Camino.

El Camino del Tiempo is a tollroad, and there’s the rub. In the marketplace value is determined by the laws of supply and demand, and as there is no demand for poor migrants they have no value. If they can find their way to a farm field or a slaughterhouse their labor may be worth more than nothing, but not by much. Rentiers are ruthless and accommodations costly on el Camino. This is not the economy of the earth, this is the marketplace of man — hell-bent on high rent and cheap labor.

Watch your step on el Camino. Sleepwalking is common, and the further we are from subsistence, the better shod we are, the smoother the ride of our car, the more likely we will doze into the ditch. And any tricks you have to keep your head from nodding, to keep your eyes on the event horizon, will surely serve you well. To practice “not knowing” is to be mindful of the unknown in front of us. From this unknown jumps the deer into our headlights. Comes the blindsiding bus. Comes red-light-running chaos, right on time.

El Camino takes many turns. Sometimes it follows an institutional corridor smelling of disinfectants. Sometimes it runs through the entrance of a busy public building, with many hands holding one door open. Sometimes it runs through the tunnels of earthworms. Yes — even the worms are migrants on el Camino!

The road behind us is real enough. We’ve gotten this far, having careened around many a learning-curve. Memory serves us, though not always well. We may think the past is captured in amber, but it’s an amber smudged with myths and mis-remembrance. Luckily, forgetting is as important as remembering. Neuroscience suggests the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus actually promotes forgetting. So forgetting need not mean failure — it can be a necessity. Ideally we pack all the lessons learned, and wisdom gleaned, and leave behind the trivial baggage, good for nothing on el Camino.

I suspect I have over-extended my extended metaphor, dear reader. Did no one warn you the road is long to one who travels with fools? Luckily this convoluted detour connects to the expressway, and all roads lead toward home. And home has me wondering about our fear of migrants from the south. Is it fear of invasion, or fear that we could someday become like them — homeless and desperate and disowned by all and sundry? We glimpse the road ahead in headlines of someone else’s end-times. We stockpile humor and detachment as provisions against the shit-storm, but when it rises to a Category 5 our flippant jokes will all blow down. Still, we lucky ones travel in comfort and peace, scouting the terrain from what Annie Dillard calls, “the shimmering vantage of the living.” Soon enough we’ll come to the border crossing where all roads end. No need for exchanging currency because shrouds have no pockets. The best smugglers cannot smuggle in even the gold of their own teeth. The lightest of travelers leave all they own behind. And after all those mirages we’ve never overtaken, at last we come to the vanishing point, and it’s farewell, farewell — to el Camino.

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