In our travels, we often seek out famous local monuments and sites. Like many tourists, we spend time admiring the statues of and tributes to conquering heroes who won great battles for their empires–like Augustus Caesar in Rome and Napoleon in Paris.
We also visit the sites of great battles, which remind us of the cost of warfare in terms of human life. This tribute to the fallen Allied soldiers during the Normandy invasion is chilling in its simplicity: thousands of graves in symmetrical rows as far as the eye can see.
We also visit famous architectural sites, like the Spanish Steps in Rome, where we joined hundreds of tourists who lingered there, reading guidebooks, and sitting on the stairs.
But as I look at these photos of other tourists, I wonder why we visit these places, beyond the fact that they are famous. What is going through our minds as we stand in the shadow of the Great Pyramids or climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower?
Are we simply joining the great human pilgrimage to these famous foreign sites to say that we have been there? Are they simply check marks on our “bucket lists?” Or, do they make us reflect on our own lives and our own achievements?
Do they make us wonder what monuments we are going to erect to our own lives? In other words, how are we going to define our “success?” Are we going to define it in dollars? Are we going to define it by our careers and our achievements (towering or otherwise)? But what if we fall short of this goal? What if we realize (horror of horrors) that our lives are simply “ordinary?” For many of us who drive ourselves hard, it often takes something dramatic like the death of a loved one or a health setback to slow us down. Arianna Huffington, the great media giant, describes her own wake up call:
I fainted from exhaustion and literally was in a pool of blood in my own office. I had been working around the clock. I went back to the Greek philosophers I had studied as a little girl, and they always ask the question: “What is a good life?” In our society we define success as money and power, which is a little bit like trying to sit on a two-legged stool–sooner or later, you’re going to topple over. I felt like it was time to redefine success and have a big, national conversation about what makes life really fulfilling and meaningful.”
It’s at this point, that many of us decide to redefine our priorities and use a different yardstick to measure our lives. Some of us re-evaluate our relationships, and realize that the people we love have had the greatest and most lingering impact on us. And in turn, our greatest impact has been on the lives we’ve touched, and the people love. So, we decide to tear down our old monuments and erect new ones, based on values that matter the most to us.
Not surprisingly, Shakespeare says it best in his sonnet:
“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.”
― William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets
What is your own personal monument going to look like? What makes your life fulfilling and meaningful? As always, thanks for sharing!
To see other monuments, click on the links below: