16 Mar The Grand, Ephemeral Nature of Life
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I returned home from a life-altering journey in Egypt and Jordan two weeks ago. This week will reflect on what I’ve learned. Because of this, I’m postponing the article on You Have Inner Gold, Part 2: Find it! I promise to return to that article very soon. Meanwhile, it seems more important to share the transformation I experienced in this once-in-a-lifetime journey with you.
Rita and I were on an adventure tour with UCLA Alumnae. UCLA is where I received my PhD in psychology. We were there with 23 other courageous souls as we went up the Nile, cruised Lake Nasser, saw the Aswan Dam, ballooned over tombs at Valley of the Kings, were awe-struck at the enormous statues of Abu Simbel, and hiked down into Petra to see all of the buildings carved into orange or dark brown sandstone. This whole journey was one of the most extraordinary events of my life.
The above is a menu of some of what we did. But it clearly doesn’t convey the experience of looking at the enormous columns at the temple of Karnak while our Egyptologist explains how they were built and then painted some of the brightest colors that have since all but disappeared in the relentless dust and sandstorms that permeate almost everything, everywhere, in Egypt.
I was gobsmacked. While I’ve never before used that word, “astonished” and “astounded” don’t quite convey the totality and transformative nature of the experience. Werner Erhard, one of my mentors many years ago, had a phrase that I think captures the essence of what I mean:
“This is something over which you will never get.”
And that is precisely what I felt as I looked at how people lived over 7,000 years ago. On the one hand, they were concerned with approximately the same things as now, although the particular expression of these concerns differed from how we would talk about them today. It looked something like this:
- Where do I go when my life is finished?
- If I work hard enough and do a great job on the Pharaoh’s tomb, given that he is a god, will he come and take me away to his kingdom when I die?
- How can I make my presence known forever if I’m the Pharaoh? What gods do I need to follow and appease, and how many monuments to myself and them do I need to build so that this will happen?
- How can I ensure that when I die, and it’s time to weigh my heart against a feather, it will not outweigh that feather (because I have a good soul) and, therefore, won’t go to a dark land filled with great difficulties and pain?
On the other hand, everywhere we went, we saw monuments created by geniuses five to seven thousand years ago. How did they raise that obelisk Queen Hatshepsut, the only female Pharaoh, created to honor her father after covering all two hundred or so feet of it with a layer of shimmering gold? Answer: they figured out how to do it with sand and ropes.
How did people create the Great Pyramid of Cheops (no, it wasn’t aliens)? We learned about their methods to raise, then polish the white marble to a fine shining surface.
The Egyptologists and Jordanologists who accompanied us showed how time had dulled or crumbled every monument. They were built by people who thought they’d be there forever. We saw how the Greeks, Romans, Coptic Church, and the Ottoman Empire put their stamp on what the Egyptians thought would be there forever. In Jordan, it was the same story with the breathtaking monuments of Petra. Whatever had been created to last “forever” had crumbled over time.
It’s one thing to read about all of this in history books. It’s almost impossible to appreciate everything that happened over thousands of years unless you see it firsthand. Once there, experiencing all of this left me with one conclusion that will be with me forever:
My lifeline is a mere “blip” compared to the thousands of years that came before me and the thousands of years that will continue after.
That experience has led me to see the following possibilities:
a. I’ve been taking myself much too seriously.
b. In our hearts of hearts, we all want to dance with life. We want to laugh, sing, and celebrate our brief stay with family and friends. And by family, I mean the one we’re born to or the family we create.
c. We want to leave a legacy, to make a difference in the quality of life for people who will follow after we’re no longer here.
If you resonate with this, you could begin by asking yourself: Have I taken myself too seriously? What difference do I want to make? What is the contribution I’ve been put here to actualize? Have I let my worries or doubts cloud what I long for? What if I focused instead on ways to celebrate life with those I love?
After working with people for over fifty years, I know that the moment you put these questions before your brain, it will give you answers about how to start.
I want people to have said this about me:
“ She loved us, we loved her, and life was just a little bit better because she was here.”
How about you?