This was snapped halfway up Tumamoc Hill in Tucson. The three mile paved road to the top is a favorite cardio workout for many in the Old Pueblo. As you might guess from the contents of the lost and found, it’s not uncommon to meet people pushing their kids ahead of them in strollers. These items were there for a while, evidence that many people only undertake the challenge of the hill once. It is grueling, and requires a particular flavor of determination. I’m not sure if they are there still, because I have been on my own hiatus from the trek.
The image got me thinking about the concept of “lost and found.” In this context, it means something lost by one person and found by another. It is an example of the inclination of good people to be kind to strangers. This is an inclination often overwhelmed by fear when said strangers are actually in our presence.
How often have you sat in your air conditioned car at a light, uncomfortably avoiding eye contact with the hot and dusty person with the sign preemptively blessing you for helping them? This is a person who has lost something as well. It might be a job, or their home to a natural disaster (or medical bills), or maybe their sanity. It could be any combination of the above, each exacerbating the other.
That person on the corner isn’t going to find their job, home, or mind neatly pinned to a line by an anonymous stranger. Chances are, they will never get back what they have lost. This is actually the case with most of the things we all lose. If you are hiking in the woods and lose your way, you rarely find it again. More likely you find a new way to the same destination. Most people who lose a job find another one rather than going back to the one they lost. If you lose a friendship, it is gone. Even if you develop another friendship with the same person, it will never be the same. For better or worse, it will be colored by the loss. As with the trail, you find another path, but to a new destination.
Most of us who experience life-changing loss have support structures in place, family, friends, or the resources to pay a trained stranger to listen to our problems. This is why it is so uncomfortable at that stop light. We know that the person with the cardboard sign has experienced nothing more than what we could easily experience tomorrow, without warning. The difference is that they don’t have the support structure. Often they have given up trying to find what they have lost, and all they are looking for is enough cash to numb their mind, to forget what they once had. Do we want to give a dollar to someone when “all they will do is buy alcohol?” Maybe that is all they have left. Maybe their life and mind are so ravaged that that is the only peace they can find.
I don’t know the answer. I almost never open my window at street corners. I do try to at least make eye contact and smile. Occasionally, when I am flush with cash, I will give a panhandler enough money to surprise them. When I travel, especially in the third world, I buy photo opportunities from the people who ask me for money. I have a lot of portraits of beggars. Interestingly, when I was in Guatemala last year, I had a couple people ask me for money and then walk away when I offered to pay to take their photo.
By making a transaction out of the relationship between the poor local and the (relatively) wealthy traveler, I had lost the connection to their poverty, but I also was trying to help them find the dignity in making an exchange rather than just begging. The people who refused me evidently felt that there was more to be lost by allowing me to take their photo than there was by asking for money. They would assuredly find another tourist to simply give them money.
What have you lost in your life? If you knew you could retrace your steps and find it pinned to a cord, would you go back and get it? Or have you found things because of that loss that have put you on a new path which you are not inclined to leave? Even if you did go back and collect what you lost, do you think it would be the same now, or would you just lose everything you have found since?