I was lost once. I was 25, year 2010, flying from rural Southwest China (Yunnan) to Singapore, only because my visa was expiring the next day. It was a pretty quick decision, based on little forethought or care. Becoming so utterly lost was, I admit, partly due to my own decision to spend most of my money to get on a random airplane to Singapore…and then to walk nearly an entire day across the city from the airport to the dock and buy a ticket on a random boat to Indonesia…and then to get on a random bus to an unknown town. I absolutely detested modern life at the time, hence my repulsion and quick escape from Singapore. I preferred non-electric living. This contradicts, of course, with using airplanes to fly around the world, but the human mind is an amazing bundle of contrary beliefs. Confusion is the norm, randomness is key, and all of this is probably as much a mystery to me as it will be to anyone who reads it.
Arriving in the Central Sumatran town of Bangkinang, I met a man holding on to only three teeth with a wide and ready smile who gave me a $2 plastic-golden watch and pointed me towards a roadside shanty. It was there I met Harry.
Harry came out to greet me because I had an old, torn up Yamaha guitar strapped over my shoulder. Harry spoke surprisingly good English, having been a tour guide for many years. Harry’s waxed-bald head was a deep brown mahogany. His bold features reminded me of the great and stable Komodo dragons. He wanted to team up and make a little money busking, playing for tips, on crowded busses that passed frequently on the oil-stained roads. I accepted.
We made very little money. I felt bad that we made so little, the equivalent of $3 in five hours, so I bought Harry a coffee as consolation. As we sat drinking it, this 45-year-old man smiled at me and invited me for dinner. Again, I accepted.
Harry lived in a one room shack near the side of the road on one of the busiest truck routes in Sumatra. The tankers tore past his home like angry elephants might trumpet out of hell. With every passing tanker, the shack rattled. Mud was splattered everywhere and teacups shook off of the low, self-made, table. After washing in the spring water that gurgled out of the rocky ground near Harry’s shack, we lit a kerosene lamp and began to eat a meal of starched rice and chicken wings.
In the shack with Harry was a kitten so small that this big Indonesian man could hold him in one palm. The kitten, too, had a small plate of food. Harry loved that kitten and lay on his side, on a mattress stuffed with discarded bits of cloth and dried grass, staring through the dim light with love for that small creature. I didn’t really like cats up until then.
I spent a few days with Harry and the kitten, all the while a chronic health ailment I had been battling for over a year had begun to flare into bloody, infected boils and carbunkles on my legs. Harry actually looked after me for weeks as a dreadful infection spread through my calf, up into my thigh and lower intestine. At the height of the throbbing infection I thought I might lose a leg until the pinnacle of pressure and redness burst, and a hollow hole in my leg began draining of my own rotting insides. I was washing in the fountain at a nearby mosque at the time.
I just didn’t care what happened to me. It was a surrender. I lived in an increasingly mystical state, full of echoes and the comfort of death. Life, especially my life, didn’t mean much. Detachment and a pathological faith characterized my random actions. This, coupled with fear. I have always been afraid of hospitals and terribly stubborn. I was sure that it would only cause more trouble and that the source of illness was inside of me, due to my inability to excrete the toxins building up in my system. Water and time, I thought, would see me through. I hardly even gave going to a clinic or health depot much, if any thought. I did, however, get some non-labeled drugs from a local chemist (coherent with my other beliefs or not). The thundering of the tankers was cooed by the soft silence of this man resigned to a simple life. He was not pitiful, not to be pitied in the least, but rather I looked up to him: here is a man who had so little but could help so much.
The role we play in this world, even though it can sometimes be a small world, only a plane flight and a boat ride away, is only measured by the largeness of our heart and the depth of our acceptance. Harry made me realize that true humanitarian work is not necessarily directed towards humans, that it comes from an inner depth, it is spontaneous and available all around us, and that it does not always flow in the direction one might assume.
I was lost then, free to the winds of the world. I was lost before then and remained lost for a long while after. I may still be lost, I wouldn’t know; that’s one of the characteristics of it. Years later, my chronic skin infections finally stopped as suddenly as they had come and those rumbling tours of pain and discomfort left me serene in my own skin. When I remember them, I always remember those feverish days in Sumatra and the loud trucks, and the thick quiet between. Now that I look back on it, I was lost so that I could find Harry and all of the other people who hide in plain sight. I was sick so that I could be open to this pointless love that somehow knits this hard-to-bear world together, and makes it bearable.
After wandering Asia and the South Pacific and riding on labour, luck and goodwill from 2008 to July 2013, Thomas Reinhart is now 28 years old and a responsible small business owner. Five years of perpetual immigration and homelessness have tempered his worries into serenity. He enjoys being alone in the mountains and woods.