Even after 20 years, I live with regret, mainly for the things I did not do. This is the human condition. For example, if I were in high school again I would go out for track and field. It must mean something if I still consider what could have been after two decades. Relative to my peers as a teenager, I could jump. One summer, in 1988 when the drought hit Iowa hard and grasshoppers bred in abundance, our farm ponds were evaporated and drained almost to emptiness, before hydraulics of yellow Caterpillars hissed and groaned while heaving dirt into mountains on the shoreline.
My Uncle Ted tried to convince me to go out for track, and he had me jump from a line in the sand—farmland that was once on the ocean’s floor millions of years ago—and I landed about 15 feet away. That is not far in consideration of the age of the universe, but it was long enough to make me feel eternal.
I recall vividly how when I landed in the dry pond, with cracks like fault lines across the surface of tectonic plates, it seemed the whole earth shook beneath me. The basin was still muddy and wet not even a foot below, and one solid hit sent shivers across the spiderwebbed bed. It impressed my uncle. I did not learn until much later how important expanding my lungs at the end of a long run could be, and that I would not always be able to elevate and float after planting a foot in the gravel of our driveway basketball court. Things fall apart. I now work hard just to slow the deterioration.
The old school building in Cambria still stands in the cradle of the highway to Humeston. The autumn after the drought, box elder bugs emerged in swarms, huddling near radiators when winter left them no other warmth. While imagining an afterlife in one of his novels, C.S. Lewis wrote, “If one could run without getting tired I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”
I came across that passage in the Cambria junior high while skimming through Lewis’ work. The idea left an impression. Mythologies often provide truths science cannot.
In history class, I was fascinated by the explorers charting an earth previously undiscovered or forgotten. I felt nostalgia for a time when there was something left unknown. It seems technology has exploded from the dawn of the 1900s until now, and just keeps snowballing. We went from horse drawn carriages to the moon in less than a century. Through the eyes of one generation of Americans, for a man or woman who had lived long enough, they could trace a thumbprint from legalized slavery in the United States to the advent of the atomic bomb, conceived in a laboratory where native tribes had been pushed from their land only a few decades before—a new kind of magic, best left to the sorcery of cult leaders who separate us by cutting body from mind.