It's early morning and the wind outside is cold. For the first time in more than a week I am in my own home. For the first time in months I went for a jog. The breeze was uncomfortable at first, then almost painful as the air began to cool the sweat beading on my skin.
I kept running, though. I muscled through it and embraced the experience. On my circuit through the streets I took new avenues, wandering across the most recent expansions and taking in hundreds of unfamiliar faces. Even in the gloom of predawn there were so many people working. The bustle was a background to the noise of my run. I focused on the swoosh of my limbs, the pounding of my heart. I felt my pulse race as I pushed harder.
Yet I couldn't help but notice the sharp crack of hammers meshing with distant, muted calls as men and women coordinated their efforts. As my feet slapped against the pavement, my eyes were drawn to the skeleton of a new watchtower climbing into the sky, just visible against the brightening sky. Our new arrivals began their real work today in the darkness, and will carry on through the light.
There's something poetic about that image. I heard laughter and cheer as those people shed sweat and effort to create something that will stand above what was before. My chest swelled with fierce pride that they would forgo sleep and probably a decent meal to ensure that much-needed work was done.
Many of them waved at me as I moved by, and I waved back. My face isn't so special that people remark on my handsomeness, but with my hair having grown as long as it has--a rarity in a society that fears an enemy grabbing onto it--and my heavy-framed glasses, I'm easy to pick out of a crowd. They greeted me with smiles and what seemed to be nods of respect. I felt the embers of happiness kindle inside me a bit. Acceptance can go a long way.
When I came back home there were already guests waiting on me. Courtney, Steve, Patrick, Becky, Bill, Gabrielle, Rachel, and a few others. Some of them, most vocally Gabby, were worried that I'd vanished without telling anyone. My jog took better than half an hour. Jess punched me in the arm for not waking her up. She hits really hard.
The fact that we were all supposed to sit down and have breakfast had totally slipped my mind. Pat and his nieces were cooking--something they liked to do for us now and again--while Pat's little girl was passed around like an adorable, crying football.
We all sat down in my living room and ate together. Deer steak and eggs are a staple food here, and one most people tire of after eating it every day for weeks at a time, but the company around me added a certain something to the repast. Friendship and good times are a spice that makes life much sweeter. The bonds we share are powerful things.
Like anything else, those bonds take work. Ask any circus tightrope walker and they'll tell you that a net is only as good as the time you put into servicing it. If you ignore what could save your life, what supports you (and in this case, the people you support in return), the whole thing can fray.
That's why mornings like this are so vital. Shared experience is important, but not just the random events we all have to live through. To knit ourselves closer, to secure what binds us together, takes deliberate choice. That's why we decided on a big meal together. Not only to remind me that there are people who care to lean on when I need them, but to simply enjoy one another. To make new memories together, adding to the rich collection of them that defines our friendships.
It's that way all over. Everywhere throughout New Haven and spreading to communities of survivors wherever they're found. That curious element is the focus of all our endeavors. To grow and fight for a better way. To rely on each other to set our course straight when we begin to veer. Love strong enough to bear the guilt and anger of being brought back down to earth when rage and arrogance pushes us in the wrong direction.
And in the simplest possible terms, concrete and down-to-earth, the force that pulls a man back from the edge of self-destruction. These people, my loved ones, are the reason I'm here right now. Only time can help salve the guilt I feel for ignoring them for so long, but they've given me the strength and encouragement I need to face that struggle. The gratitude I feel is...
There aren't any words. It's too much.
I lose track of the number of times I've said this, but some messages bear repeating. We will face enemies, human and zombie alike. We will likely face sickness and starvation, war and death. We will disagree--sometimes violently--and we will falter. Bad things will happen, and they will chip away at us. I'm living proof of that.
None of those things are the end of the world. You might have noticed, but we've been there and done that.
When one of us begins to fall, there will be another to hold us up until our strength returns. On the small scale as with my own recent experience, all the way to the vast assortment of communities that support one another already. As we move past the hardest times we've faced, the first few years after The Fall, we begin the times that will truly test us.
Once survival isn't the desperate struggle it once was, we begin to lay the framework for the future. Not just the next few years and not just in the physical sense. We are creating the first stage of a new age of human existence. We lay the literal and metaphorical foundations for the infinite time ahead. Small things now will have a larger impact decades or centuries down the line than we can possibly imagine. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to the untold generations we hope to see born, to out our best effort into it.
And the only way to do that is together. That may mean swallowing our pride and taking in enemies as allies like we've done with some of the Exiles and many, many marauders. Chances are we'll badly misstep here and there in the name of justice, but with any luck there will be others to call us out on our mistakes.
But not only call us out. It's my hope that all of us, the entirety of human beings we're in contact with, will always strive not only to point out these flaws we so easily miss in ourselves, but also offer solutions. Self-correction on a massive scale, arcing over years and decades and centuries.
I hope for that, even though hoping is a fool's game. I have to be a fool, because if I saw the unity of purpose and the powerful compassion around me as just some fleeting thing, I wouldn't be able to face this world another day.
We will soar above even the hopes and dreams we have now. Our legacy will be the choice to be better than we were before, in every way that matters. As our homes and technology improve, so must our commitment to one another, and to the uncounted tomorrows our children will share. A higher moral fiber, a greater code of ethics, and a future bound by mutual achievement and cooperation. Those must be equally important goals moving forward.
Otherwise, all we have lost and all we have done to rebuild is a waste. Separately we will fail and flounder.
Together, we will rise.