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August 15, 2011
 by Steven Hill

MEDITATION OVER ROMAN RUINS...Gazing over the ruins of the Roman Forum, eye-scanning the archeological levels of the grandeur that once was, I am gripped by a melancholy that provides a moment to reflect on the wonder as well as the horror of the human experience. It’s chilling to think that Julius Caesar was assassinated here, no more than a few steps from where I am standing, a dictator ambushed by other men of ambition. Victorious Roman legions marched through the ornately-carved arches of triumph and empire, their conquered victims in tow, entire towns in chains (women, men, children, livestock). But Rome itself eventually fell, the sites of empire abandoned, weeds growing between the cracks, the marble from its magnificence eventually pilfered by the Catholic popes to adorn St. Peter’s basilica. Oh, the stories that marble could tell if it could talk…or if we could listen.

I reflect on the tragedies and crimes that humans have inflicted upon each other, rotating with saner moments in which we have fostered the laws, institutions and policies to protect ourselves…from ourselves. I experience a moment of extreme sadness as I realize how long these struggles have been going on, and that we have not yet succeeded in our task. Perhaps we never will. No wonder religion has such a hold over so many humans; it offers a gossamer veil of relief from the storm. Humans long have appealed to a higher power to protect us from ourselves. But god never arrived, not with sufficient presence anyway, to settle this tragic wandering in the desert. Either that or, as Woody Allen once observed, God is a drastic underachiever. No, g(G)od(s) has not saved us, not from ourselves or the invading hordes or the empires of ambition or anyone else.

Instead, all we have is this frail human attempt at political and economic governance, with all its faults. The European Union is only the latest chapter in a centuries’ long trek, one that passed through America in 1776 and galloped its way through subsequent centuries. Political and economic governance are the twin mechanisms for grappling with the challenges of our times. And we have only to look at the Roman Forum, and the crumbs of empire littered across its acreage spread beneath the Palatine Hill and its buried secrets, to understand the steep price of failure. The mighty can and have been laid low. The small and meek can and have become almighty. Whether you are religious or not, you are on your knees before the giant demigods who pull the strings of the human story, dangling us from Mount Olympus, sometimes crushing us like ants beneath their steps. The mystery of human history humbles us all.

Steven Hill 7:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks
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