The Exodus Immemorial
There are many times and places wherein humanity has fallen short, and not only short of our best, but short of meeting the most basic obligations we have to one another.
The forced displacement of people, even whole communities and sometimes nations, is a cruelty so constant - so consistent - that one might think that it is somehow intrinsic to human nature. Sometimes the result of natural disasters, more often caused by careful and deliberate acts of state violence, the refugees that are created by any displacement are, historically, treated appallingly; dehumanised and vilified, turned away from shelter and safe harbour alike. Their hardships range from the unbearable to the untenable and, absent the welcome or kindnesses of those who have (by luck or providence) been spared such despair and such desperate indignities, something bound by neither our weaknesses nor our failings sometimes offers them another option: The chance to walk with The Exodus Immemorial.
Keeping its distance from more settled populations, and often traversing the most inhospitable of climates and conditions, The Exodus Immemorial is sometimes mistaken for a nomadic caravan; a migration undertaken out of choice, rather than by necessity. The oldest known mentions of their endless, unceasing processional date back to ancient Sumeria, but even these (which estimate that the group was already comprised of some four hundred individuals) make explicit reference to the numerous sightings that had occurred over the preceding centuries. A legend which, as far as we can tell, predates the written word, when distant and disparate reports of their activities came to be compared, the impossible patterns of their movements became first apparent and then undeniable.
The Exodus Immemorial has been seen on every continent, travelling at the limits of observation like a mirage in the distance. They walk, unflinching and without slowing, across the harshest and most arid of deserts, over barren and windswept plains and through the blistering chill of frozen steppes and arctic snowfields. There is, of course (and even if one were to discount the difficulties of one group being suitably equipped to survive in so many different extreme environments), no route by which the caravan could navigate all these areas of the planet. The best efforts to track their movements have been forced to concluded that their journey is not straightforwardly physical, with each appearance a distinct leg of some poorly-understood pilgrimage.
Careful to avoid the scrutiny of outsiders (a collective precaution likely born of the conflicts that forced them to abandon the various places they once called home) descriptions of those whose walk in The Exodus Immemorial are vague and varied by turns. Their earliest numbers were drawn from peoples whose stories are lost to history, their origins only hinted at in the manner of their dress, but their ranks have swelled year on year. Large groups of refugees and displaced people are, by the nature of their enforced transience, vulnerable to people going missing; to people falling behind or being picked off by those who would prey on them, but some - by a manner or mechanism that remains unknown - find themselves a part of something that exists beyond our current understanding.
However the proffer of a place amongst The Exodus Immemorial is made, and whether it is accepted consciously or if it consent is assumed from whatever desperate prayer or plea unknowingly invokes it, it seems to be a purgatorial lifeline rather than an offer of a real rescue. More atemporal than anachronistic, the caravan exists out of step from the rest of the world, its members apparently all-but-immortal for as long as they can bear the familiar hardships of their journey; the predictable, almost comfortable degree of suffering. There are anecdotal reports of people who have claimed to have been a part of The Exodus Immemorial but, finding themselves more lost and displaced than they ever were before, most disappear again before their accounts can be properly detailed and thoroughly investigated.
Speculation about how The Exodus Immemorial came into being, by what influence or authority it can offer its version of deliverance, is both rampant and frustratingly short on meaningful conclusions. It predates the foundation of most religions and the work of those saints to whom some might offer credit, instead speaking to older and more nebulous and formless sorts of power. One theory, which plays off the waning belief that all magic and miracles are the exertions of will strong enough to reshape reality, is that The Exodus Immemorial was created by the collective need of its original members: Urgency and intent tapping into some undefined wellspring of potential that has been refreshed and strengthened by the steady infusion of new participants.
After thousands of years of bringing some of the world’s most disenfranchised and desperate people into their fold, The Exodus Immemorial is estimated to have grown to include over a million refugees. This number would be horrifying in and of itself - that so many have been failed so completely is utterly shameful - but when compared to the numbers of displaced people there are in the present day, let alone across all of history, it becomes clear that even this limited and unreliable relief has been overwhelmed by the extent of our collective shortcomings and, frankly, our crushing indifference. Even efforts to create international laws under which refugees are protected, work begun with the best of intentions, have often fallen short when it comes to their application and efficacy in the real world.
With the power to grant a truer respite resting in our own hands, some have argued that The Exodus Immemorial’s existence is a continued indictment of human society and human nature. They believe that it was intended to be a temporary reprieve - an effort to save as many lives as possible - whilst more secure populations developed the necessary compassion (and the political will) to offer more meaningful and permanent respite. Should such a world ever come to pass, should we ever create the conditions in which The Exodus Immemorial could safely come to rest, perhaps it will. Or perhaps it will walk ever onwards, always and eternally unsatisfied, through the ruins and ashes of a world that we end up destroying without ever reaching such a gentle and sustainable state.