All of us are descended from migrants. Our species, Homo sapiens, did not evolve in Lahore, where I am writing these words. Nor did we evolve in Shanghai or Topeka or Buenos Aires or Cairo or Oslo, where you, perhaps, are reading them.
Even if you live today in the Rift Valley, in Africa, mother continent to us all, on the site of the earliest discovered remains of our species, your ancestors too moved—they left, changed, and intermingled before returning to the place you live now, just as I left Lahore, lived for decades in North America and Europe, and returned to reside in the house where my grandparents and parents once did, the house where I spent much of my childhood, seemingly indigenous but utterly altered and remade by my travels.
None of us is a native of the place we call home. And none of us is a native to this moment in time. We are not native to the instant, already gone, when this sentence began to be written, nor to the instant, also gone, when it began to be read, nor even to this moment, now, which we enter for the first time and which slips away, has slipped away, is irrevocably lost, except from memory.
To be human is to migrate forward through time, the seconds like islands, where we arrive, castaways, and from which we are swept off by the tide, arriving again and again, in a new instant, on a new island, one we have, as always, never experienced before. Over the course of a life these migrations through the seconds accrue, transform into hours, months, decades. We become refugees from our childhoods, the schools, the friends, the toys, the parents that made up our worlds all gone, replaced by new buildings, by phone calls, photo albums, and reminiscences. We step onto our streets looking up at the towering figures of adults, we step out again a little later and attract the gazes of others with our youth, and later still with our own children or those of our friends—and then once more, seemingly invisible, no longer of much interest, bowed by gravity.
We all experience the constant drama of the new and the constant sorrow of the loss of what we’ve left behind. It is a universal sorrow and one so potent that we seek to deny it, rarely acknowledging it in ourselves, let alone in others. We’re encouraged by society to focus only on the new, on acquisition, rather than on the loss that is the other thread uniting and binding our species.