“We were wanderers from the beginning…” chime the opening lines to Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Renowned astronomer Carl Sagan begins his book about exploring the cosmos with a hearkening back to the 99.9% of our time spent on this planet as nomads. It seems we are a species with tremendous potential, and tremendously humble beginnings. With—might I add—cooperative beginnings. A humbling thought.
Before our settling down. Before scarcity and squabbling. Before war tore through the very middle of us. Before all the boundaries—real and imagined—were laid out. There was only one thing to do—and that was to keep moving. “The frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the earth, and the ocean, and the sky.” The astronomer muses on, in praise of wanderlust, or of that seemingly all too human trait… restlessness.
Our longing for bigger and brighter things, he reassures us, is the leftover imprint of when we had to keep moving in order to keep on living. Of when the lame among us, those that fell sick or fell behind, soon perished. Of when we could not make it alone. And it was the restless that led us to new lands, to new abundances. The very survival of our species, the astronomer claims, will always depend on the restless. On longing.
But how easy it is to leave the trail-blazing to someone else. To admire activism, when our own basic needs are easily met. To admire adventuring, from a vantage of varied comforts. To say, I am glad that someone is out there—doing that good thing, fighting that good fight—but I am also glad that it is not me. How easy it is to believe that those that pave the way are simply more equipped than us. More adventurous. More resilient.
We each juggle our personal allotments of anger, of fear, of grief, of loneliness. And in so juggling, what we might forget is that the trail-blazers among us are often the most weary, the most beaten down. The ones that have already lost the most. They blaze because they must. They press forward, because the way back has been barred for them. They have already lost a family, a language, a country. They may have lost an entire narrative for themselves—and have had no alternative but to construct a new one.
For this issue, we called for submissions concerning displacement and displaced peoples, and we defined a displaced person as someone “who has been forced to leave his or her native place.” In the end, what this issue really became is something by trail-blazers, for trail-blazers. And in a time when the headlines may make us feel like we have not come a very long way at all, we must look to those marginalized few—those with foresight.
In constructing new narratives for themselves, the writers featured here have constructed new narratives for entire countries, languages, peoples. They have taken what was lost and turned it into what is found. They are restless, yes. They are hungry. They are tired. They do not waver. They have embarked on a journey towards progress, and they will not turn back. Neither will they turn their backs on the difficult realities that progress entails.
Their voices have come to us from a long way away, and they have a long way yet to go.
They are those upon whom the very survival of our most human stories depend.