Friday, July 01, 2005

Monument

I was at the house of some friends -- the brothers Hay -- earlier this evening, watching a movie with the gang, and got home at about one o'clock in the morning. The night was so nice that before I got to the entrance of my apartment I had decided to go for a walk, as I am wont to occasionally do late at night. I ended up in the local memorial park, wandering along under the darkened trees, ignoring the glare of the streetlamps as best I could. Following the path there I came to the small clearing where stood a monument to our town's fallen soldiers of wars past, a great stone obelisk rising from the neatly mowed grass. Under the list of the names of the fallen, a sheathed bronze sword appeared to have been sunk into the stone, symbolizing the end of war.

I've seen it before, of course, but this time I saw it differently, somehow. The pillar seemed like a link to the past, a link to the days gone by when those who went before us came home from a war across the sea. It seemed so strange, here in a peaceful garden in peaceful times, that nearly a hundred years ago, and again sixty years ago, the young men of our little town were not going to parties and getting drunk and sleeping around like they do today, like young men have done throughout history. Instead, they were boarding trains bound for distant lands, boarding ships to cross an ocean, many of them never to return. They weren't mythical heroes of a golden age; they were no different from anyone alive today. Just kids, from our little town, going to wars unlike any that had been fought before or have been fought since.

I've often wondered what people will think of us a few thousand years from now. Lately I've been reading about the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, some of the first civilizations this side of the Flood. What little we know about them comes from the few things that have survived the thousands of years since they walked the earth: clay tablets, broken pottery, stone monuments. From these bits and pieces we've puzzled together a picture of how they lived: short, hard lives, constantly at war, their civilizations always on the brink of anarchy. The strong took from the weak, ruling with an iron fist, beating dissent back with a merciless whip. Wars were fought at the whims of the rulers, for greed and glory and power. The monuments we find were erected in honour of these men's victories, describing in flowery language the power and fame of the victors, showing how their enemies bowed in terror before them. Their legacy is a ruthless one, without mercy or sympathy.

So how then will we be remembered? We know so much about the ancients because they used clay tablets for their writing, but we use nothing so permanent. Things like paper and parchment rarely survive to be dug up by archaeologists, much less computer hard drives and the electronic media. All that will be left of us will be the things of metal and stone -- our roads and our cars and the basements of our homes. The only words that will survive the eons will be those engraved in the rocks, like the one standing in that little park down the street. Only this time, it won't be a list of enemies defeated by a boastful king that is uncovered by the archaeologist's brush. It will instead be the bronze blade of war, sunk with finality into the stone, under these words:

"DEEP BURIED LIES THIS SWORD"

When our descendants, far removed in ages yet to come, look back at us and wonder what we were like... I think they will wonder not at our great power and technology, but our great compassion and humility. For all our flaws and failings, I am glad I was born into this society and not another.

2 comments:

Benjamin said...

Really? You "often wondered what people will think of us a few thousand years from now."?
I honestly don't know if I've ever seriously thought about that. One or two generations maybe but a few thousand years? That's a little far from the inside of the box for me.

I'm glad I was born into this time and place too. Although I'm sure I don't aprectiate it as much as I could, or should.

SEZ said...

Very nice. I'm glad you're glad. I'm glad too.'

Love,
YM