rachel sontag rachelsontag.com
By Dad Rachel Sontag Rachelsontag.com
When I was young, I began to understand that I was here only because my dad made that decision to come to America. I realized that the others were dead because their dads chose to or were forced to remain behind. At first, this awareness was of minimal concern. In short time, however, the realization became a too frequent detractor of my every day thoughts. One might say that I was obsessed with the unanswerable question of why I was here and the others were not.
After undergrad, and with the chains loosened, I began the trek down that lonesome road -- shunning the world of conventional thought and creating a world of self-imposed isolation – running from nothing. During those runs, there were periods of revelation, of illumination, but the road was too often dark. I walked, stumbled, fell and even crawled through no fewer than 70 countries, five continents, and one of the poles: The Americas, Europe–East and West, the Middle East with civilization’s cradle, West and Central Asia, and 12,000 miles of African jungle, plains and desert.
The lands were breathtaking; the creatures, magnificent; the people, an awe-inspiring web of good and evil. Some were well armed, like the Soviet Army and the Egyptian military. Some were disorganized and angry, yet made an effort to beam, like the Ethiopian and Kenyan armies. Others were filled with hate and willing to act out, like the Sudan-based Eritrean Liberation Front and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Some, with no pay for months, were forced to hunt for their own food, like the Congo armies and Zambian militias. Still others were convinced of their righteous causes, like the guerrillas in the Guatemalan mountains. And some just lived from day to day, the only way they knew, like the Rumanian and Serbian Gypsies. Some seemed to accept their fate, as they died by the thousands in the War of Bangladesh. And others begged for their lives as rifle butts split their skulls at the Pakistan-Indian border. And in South India, there was nobody to help a young boy holding his guts since his bull 2 days earlier had ripped open his abdomen. Then, there were the crusaders, receiving their assignments directly from G-d, like the Protestant missionaries in the mountains of Ethiopia and the Catholic missionaries in the forests of Zambia. And of course, there were the “civilized” Europeans in Uganda and Zaire (Belgian Congo) – too violent for their Nordic countries of birth, they bartered long prison terms for a signed guarantee never again to return, banished from their home to survive forever as paid killers, mercenaries who stamped out life without batting an eye. As for me, I felt awkwardly content – safe and protected - in their fortress of bricks and guns, and in their kitchens of bread and beer. How easy it is to judge from afar the actions of those we don’t know, or don’t want to know. I knew these folk. They had saved my life.
Yes, but man is basically good. I’ve heard it all before - repeated by those living in comfort and peace, by those born into wealth, by those with roofs and strong walls, by those whose stomachs are filled every day, and by those who believe there is no G-d. Man is basically good. How naïve! How dense! Man is born neither basically good nor basically bad. Man is born with free choice. Man needs a higher Source for instructions on how to live. Without that Source, man himself decides what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. Without that Source, man will be lost and chaos will reign. And without that Source, the oceans will fill with blood. Those who survive may live to envy the dead.
In the end, my sought-for answers to why I was here and the others were not remained more distant than ever – still being sought, but no longer an obsession. The treks, spanning the seasons and straddling the decades, were nothing less than futile. And the search? Yes, the search did provide long periods of sorrow, grief, fear, unwanted aloneness and seemingly endless solitude, out of which emerged the realization that life’s answers lay not at the top of some magical mountain or the midst of a tropical rain forest, but rather in the relentless search itself.