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Collective confinement

November 17th, 2011

I’ve never travelled anywhere exciting. I’ve never left North America. I haven’t experienced 39 states of the union. I haven’t touched the salty Pacific or seen a real, honest-to-God mountain. Many find this peculiar since I exude an adventurous spirit, constantly talking about running away, seeing the world, and escaping the constraints of civilization or, at the very least, the obligations of my life.

Most often, I try to make up for the lack of geographical displacement and cultural adventure in my life by doing crazy or intense things. Almost entirely this materializes in something running related. I usually end up challenging myself (at least subconsciously) to something no one but I will witness being completed.

This Saturday, cross country season ended. On Sunday I decided to do an easy seven miles to shake out the previous day’s race. That seven miles turned into nearly 17. Two hours, four minutes and 25 seconds by myself. I would have preferred to have been among the mountains on some forgotten strip of trampled dirt, the thin air causing laborious breaths but sweeter than those of half the trouble in a sea level city. But, the silence of Sunday night suburbia brought more solace than I would expect.

The streets of Cleveland Heights are filled with some incredible houses. Not very far away from the mansions on and north of Fairmount Boulevard are the less fortunate neighborhoods of East Cleveland. In both areas, houses represent more than just dwelling places. Their collective presence makes a community. On an individual level, they are the places of families. Houses solve the problems of exposure to unwanted people and unwelcome natural elements. Though they are an answer, on Sunday night to the outsider trotting down the street, their security and permanence raised more questions. Though neighborhoods are such a common thing, there is much that is unanswerable about them.

An unexpected feeling of diffidence came over me as I passed house after house. The physical and financial comfort the prosperous homes emanated brought a feeling of insecurity that comes with the realization of an unsure future.

Sometimes the mundane seems incredibly unachievable. Most of the time I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do in the next 10 hours. Owning a house is one of those landmarks in one’s life. It’s something most people aspire to do and it shows they’ve reached a landmark of stability. The life college students live is very temporary and though we are more independent than we were for the first 17 or 18 years of our lives, our decisions are usually made easier by the structure of campus life. The world seems to be coming so fast. We are left to fend largely for ourselves.

Where do we go from here? How do we become that comfortable middle to upper middle class family like the ones that seem so happy strolling with their children on Saturday afternoons? Which of us will be forced into lower class neighborhoods, struggling to get by?

In the words of Lord Byron, “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, /There is a rapture on the lonely shore, /There is society, where none intrudes, /By the deep sea, and music in its roar: /I love not man the less, but Nature more, …” Everything is simplified in nature. There is hardly  ever injustice in the “wild” and though the functioning of ecosystems is complex, everything is reduced to simple forms. Because of the uniform material necessities of all organisms, living conditions are equal; it all makes sense. Though nature is much more awe-inspiring, civilization is indubitably more fascinating because of its peculiarity.

Perhaps to experience adventure we don’t need to see the great monuments or exotic locales of the world. Almost equally moving experiences can be found if one becomes locally separated from the immediate environment and is able to realize and question the intricacies of our conventional habitat.