Welcome, all, to curtain call.
Our trip in Italy is over, and we begin our journey back to our homes with greatly varying degrees of excitement. Some of us have been longing for this since day one, others have only recently become homesick. And some of us… Well, some of us don’t want to leave at all. The thought that this experience is over leaves me with some somber reflections, and interesting thoughts.
We began this trip with great excitement, and we were thrust into a new and interesting place along with a group of people we didn’t know. Living with complete strangers for three weeks does one of two things: you begin to despise the people you are with, or you become very close very quickly. Luckily, it was generally the latter of the two which took place. Feeling groundless in a new world, we clung to each other for stability and support, but in reality, we were all wandering around, completely lost. At least we were lost together.
Yet, with time, we did as all people do. We adapted to our new lives. We accepted that lack of significant communication to our homes, and we embraced a new routine with a new family. We saw great wonders of the ancient world, explored bustling cities choked with traffic and sleepy towns blanketed by serenity. We ate together. We drank together. We lived together. Unfamiliarity became familiarity – both with the world and each other. Our new lives were all encompassing, and our old lives faded into the background and began to vanish completely. People seem to adapt remarkably well to a new situation, especially when it is one suddenly thrust upon us.
Then why, I wonder, is going back so difficult? There is quote from Tolkien of which I am particularly fond, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? “ Quickly adapting to something new is easy, almost customary, for most people the way we live our lives. We move from city to city for jobs, for love, or just because. Going back to something old, however, never seems to be as easy. For all of those of us who are anxious to return home, I can’t help but feel that they do not quite realize what they will lose upon returning home. Waking up to the sight of the Tuscan sun beaming upon the Duomo in Siena, or falling asleep to the gentle rustle of the sea upon the beaches of the Cinque Terre. Our new life, our new homes, our new family, have become so all encompassing that I cannot help but feel there will be a void when we return to our daily drudgery. I will no longer wake up to the shining Duomo, or to the smiling faces of my friends, roommates, and instructors.
Despite the emptiness that will surely manifest itself, we will adapt. We always do. It is a comforting thought to know that our lives can completely change and we can still adapt, and not only adapt, but flourish and grow. But in a way there really is no going back. The people met, the experiences had, the memories made will remain with us forever. They will change how we view the world, and more importantly, how we view our fellow man. Knowledge once gained cannot be discarded, its mark is indelible and immortal.
It is my hope that, for all of us, that change was a positive one.
It is my hope that we have all learned a greater degree of acceptance of other people, other cultures, and gained an openness to new things.
It is my hope that we have all learned to love a little bit more.
It is my hope that we have not merely changed, but grown.
We have all come to an important moment in our lives. Interpretation of events lived is pending. Choices and reactions are waiting to be made. Lives set to change forever.
And there is no going back.
Today was the 150th Unifcation anniversary in Italy, and as I watched events of the day unfold I realized some interesting things about Italy – and the world – which I had previously glazed over. Whether this was by subconscious intent, or mere lack of opportunity to observe such things, I do not know. It is fitting that this reality shock comes at the end of our excursion as we now prepare to head back to our regular lives.
Because of the 150th anniversary, many high ranking officials were in Rome today; including vice president Biden. All day long(and for a significant portion of yesterday) sirens have screamed through the streets of Roma without pause. The high pitched wails of the sirens echoing off the buildings and bouncing through every street until it seemed to blot out the sounds of Rome itself. Security forces stood guard all across the city, and sped down the arteries of Roma with haste. A sense that something big, something important, was happening hung in the air. Yet, it was not a joyous celebration of the people as we see on the fourth of July in the US. All the movements that indicated something of magnitude was taking place were from government and military officials, not masses of people. It felt almost.. forced.
This morning as our group made our way to the Vatican museum, we passed security forces armed with fully automatic weapons, blocking off roads and creating space for convoys carrying diplomats and other important personnel. Scenes like this were common throughout the day, culminating in an event later in the day when a group of friends and I went out for dinner and gelato. Feeling content from a good meal and good company, we walked down Via Nazionale, lit by softly glowing streetlamps stretching along the street till they blurred into a single point of hazy yellow-orange light. Along the streets, scattered groups of two or so Carabinieri stood tall and proud in their well-pressed black and red uniforms, looking professional and intimidating. Packs of kevlar and helmet clad Polizia stood hunched and tense like wild animals prepared to pounce on anyone at any moment, yet they somehow maintained a stance of aloofness. Carabinieri patrols sped by on motorcycles and Polizia vans prowled the alleyways. A helicopter hovered low and steady above the streets, watching, waiting.
As we reached a major intersection on Via Nazionale, the sound of sirens became as constant as the hum of the city and far more overpowering, and we saw the back of a large crowd held back by lines of security forces. Slowly pushing through to the front of the crowd to stand at the curb, we see miles of traffic backed up along the street on either side of the intersection. Civilians on Vespas and in cars began to honk furiously, obviously upset that they could not proceed. Diplomatic convoys reached the intersection, turned, and rapidly sped down the empty street. One of the convoys contained a number of vehicles with American plates, including an SUV with the trunk popped and a ski-mask clad man with an assault rifle in the back, carefully eying any and all people as the SUV sped down the streets.
For a long time, I had always thought about various national problems, and revolutions and whatnot, and always wondered to myself “Why don’t all the people just stand up and fight.” Even then, I knew it was not that simple, but to know it and experience it are two different things. I had never quite understood how dictators took and held power so effectively. I had never realized what a supremely effective tool fear is. I felt out of place, and weak; swept along by forces so much larger than myself and grasping for control.
I saw massive crowds of men and women were held back by a vastly smaller number. With one look at the dramatically imposing Carabinieri, and the intimidating predators of the Polizia, my blood went cold. The idea of fighting well trained and well armed forces is akin to the idea of trying to fight a rampaging grizzly bear with your bare hands – terrifying beyond belief. The certainty that, if one tried to oppose them – they would die, was overpowering. Now, the Carabinieri and Polizia were simply running security operations, but seeing these forces and all the tools they had at their disposal was unsettling. I could not shake the feeling that if they ordered me to surrender and submit to whatever they might have in store, I would not resist. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of another human being.
It was a truly crippling emotion, and I began to see why it is often so difficult for anyone who faces such forces to stand up and fight. It also gives me an even greater level of respect for those who fight for what they believe in. Especially those who are told to kneel, told to submit, told to move, by a much greater force and yet when faced with certain failure they will still stand their ground, look the foe in the face, and say, “No. You move.”
This evening, a friend and I decided to hike from the southernmost town of the Cinque Terre, to the northernmost town. A group of us grabbed dinner in Riomaggiore, and we all walked the first leg of the hike together before splitting in the next town. The rest of the group continued on the train back to Levanto, and my friend and I bid them farewell and began our hike. The sun had long since set into the sea, and a chilled night crept over the land. Climbing upward through the twilight air and glowing lightblooms from scattered streetlamps, we began to chat about… everything. As we chatted, the landscape seemed to simply move in a blur. Eventually, we moved out of reach of any city lights, and we resorted to using my flashlight to light our way, pointing it downward so we could both see our footing on the thin and rocky path. The world grew darker and darker around us, eventually turning to blackness.
In a world of black we walked and talked in a bubble of silver luminescence, trekking up and down stairs, twisting and turning with the flow of the hills. I began to realize just how relaxed I was, and how relaxing the walk was. It had been quite a while since I had been able to talk to anyone without thinking about anything, just talking and saying what came naturally. Using carefully constructed statements designed to forward the image of ourselves we want to present is something virtually all of us are guilty of. It felt quite wonderful to drop all of that and just talk to another person, no carefully planned statements, no politicking, just talking.
Eventually, we curved around the outside of a hillside sparse of trees, allowing us to see the darkly vague shapes of the other cliffsides and the sea. It wasn’t until we turned inward did we see something spectacular. Fireflies; dozens and dozens of them, all spread throughout a small wooded glade. We sat on a fortuitously placed bench, and watched them dance. Flaring briefly with a dull yellow light, they floated through the air all around as we talked, casting shadows in the night, and causing the world around us twinkle as if we were floating amongst stars. Sometimes they would drift between us as we talked, briefly lighting her hidden visage with bursts of dull gold and causing her oak-and-ochre eyes to flash and shimmer brilliantly, and her dark hair to shine like spidersilk with every flare of light.
The stars shone softly in the night sky, appearing as nothing more than tiny spots of light. I began to imagine that the stars themselves were like a thousand fireflies, flaring only briefly before going dark. Then I realized that this is not so incorrect – even the seemingly immortal stars burn out and die. New ones form from the recycled material of old stars, and they too flare only temporarily. To us, the flash of a firefly is a brief thing, imperceptible and inconsequential in time when compared with the length of our lives. I wonder if there is anything so old and so permanent as it can view the flare of stars as merely momentary. What could watch the stars flare out, die, and rekindle, just as we would watch fireflies dance in the night for a few moments.
Perspective is everything, your heart is shaped by it, and your life moved and guided by it. Yet we have placed manacles and shackles upon our mind by stringently insisting that the perspective that we were raised with is the right perspective. So bound to our ways, we rarely truly consider the validity of another’s way, instantly calling it flawed instead of trying to understand, and trying to shift our perspective. Perhaps to a tiny, short lived creature, the flare of a firefly is as eternal as the stars.
But what do fireflies and stars matter to us? We have more important things to worry about.
They mean everything.
In a music and sleep deprivation fueled daze, my head bounced groggily side to side and up and down in time with the movement of the bus. Having not yet fully woken up, and far from recovering from my sleepy confusion, I spied blotches of brightly colored houses and shops congealed together on the forested slopes like drops of multicolored paint spilled onto a canvas. Various gasps, exhalations, and muted anticipating laughter rumbled at the edge of my perceptions. Still weary from the events of the last couple days, including our chaotic and rather unpopular stop at Pisa, I had a hard time keeping conscious. Slowly gaining lucidity, I was able to more strongly appreciate the spectacular vistas of steeply forested cliffs, wispy gray clouds in a cobalt sky, and houses perched in seemingly unreachable locations. Despite the beauty before me, I still felt a weight on my shoulders, pressing against my good mood. Refusing to let this weight ruin my first impression of Cinque Terre, I ignored it to the best of my abilities. Seeing the dark ocean gently caress the dark beaches in the distance gave me a measure of peace. The waters seemed to call to me, a wordless song beckoning me to let go, relax, and give in to its cold embrace.
The lingering unpleasant sensation clung to me, however, and I could not push it away. We dropped off our things at the hostel, and I grabbed my camera and headed out with a few of my good friends for a walk on the beachfront. The soft rumble of the sea grew louder with every step I took. The crashing of the waves like natures’ own fanfare, and the hush of the receding waves like its lullaby. The song grew louder and louder, and when we reached the beach and I felt sand beneath my toes, its call was nearly irresistible. The smell of saltwater permeated the air; the tang palpable in the breeze. The sun began to set spectacularly behind the coastal mountain, scorching the sky with pink and orange fire which faded to the cool, dark blue of approaching clouds. I thought back on the events of the day, and the weight on my shoulders became more oppressive, and I knew I had to relieve this stress somehow – I could not wait any longer. As I thought about what to do, the sweet siren song called to me.
Smiling to myself, A thought popped into my head. Handing my shoes, wallet, camera, phrasebook, and cellphone to my friends, I pulled off my shirt and headed toward the water. The cool waters lapped against my legs and the song became more and more clear, and the weight on my shoulders lightened. I began to run, kicking up a white spray, and soaking my pants. Submerged to my upper thigh, I dove into an oncoming wave and the world went silent and dark. The cool saltwater peeled across my back, stripping away any burdensome thoughts and filling my head with the siren song of the waves. Water rushed into my ears, the sand groaned beneath me, the pull tide swirled about me, and waves crashed upon rocks, creating a cacophonous singular voice like the hum of a god which soothed my soul and left me content, rejuvenated, and relaxed.
Rising from the cool waters a moment later, I see my friends standing upon the beach, laughing and smiling, and my heart is given a lightness which has eluded me for days now. I took a deep breath, looked around and smiled as I walked toward the sands. I had finally arrived in Cinque Terre.
Today in Firenze, some of the girls in our group found some dashing Italian men, and asked to take pictures with them. These same girls have been making comments about Italian guys all week, ranging from “He’s got petty eyes,” or “I like his hair,” to “He is so hot,” and “He’s got a really nice butt.” These are normal comments for many girls – or boys – to make, but foreign peoples seem to bring out the amorous sides of people so I am noticing it much more. It also prompted me to consider gender differences, and what I found bothered me. I thought that if one of us guys asked a beautiful Italian woman for a picture, one of two things would happen.
1: We would get maced and called pigs by both the woman and the girls in our group.
2: She would agree, though we would be called pigs by girls in our group.
Just like if I whispered to the girls “Wow, she’s got a really nice butt…” I would be chastised. I talked to one of the other girls about this, and she said “Yeah, you are right, but that is just the way it is. Besides, it means something different when guys make a comment like that.” This idea bothered me greatly. It is an assumption of intent based solely on the sex of the person in question, not based on what they actually say. This is also highly hypocritical. Which also bothers me greatly. I strongly dislike prejudices of any sort, whether they favor men or favor women, or whether they favor one racial group over another, or even one religious group over another. Either way, it is wrong. All these thoughts put me in a more reserved mood than usual, and it took a turn for the worse when our group sat on our bus and headed home.
Before I explain that, however, I will tell you something about myself. Most of my friends are girls. Their personalities tend to click better with mine, I enjoy shopping with girls (or guys who are willing) and helping them pick out new outfits and such, I enjoy softer and more reserved personalities, which tend to be more common in woman. And as that is the personality type I seek out, I tend to befriend women. As such, all of the people I have been hanging out with on this trip have been girls. All of my new friends are girls. The few guys here prefer to simply hang out and drink in the bar, so I have been spending time with all the girls. I am very thankful for them, they have made this trip a blast, and I know I will keep these friends well into the future.
Soon, we will leave for the Cinque Terre and we will have a free day on the beach. The girls and I had all been talking about how much we were looking forward to it for a week now. So today, on the bus heading home, my closest new friend turns to me and says “Hey, would you be offended if we made the beach thing a girls day?” The question came from nowhere, and I was surprised at it.
”Nah, not at all. That’s fine,” I lied. If she had told me: “Hey, would you mind if we didn’t go to the beach with you? We don’t really want you there,” I would have been fine. Either she just didn’t want me around and she was lying to me about it, or she was excluding me simply based on my sex. I’m not sure which idea I find worse. If she simply didn’t like me that much and didn’t want me there, I have no problem accepting that. It is the rest that bothers me.
This whole trip I have been hanging out with these girls, shopping with them, eating with them, doing everything I can to make sure things go smoothly for them, and suddenly I am alienated based on something beyond my control – my biological sex. For someone like me, who already feels quite alienated around most of my own sex, being excluded from a day with these new friends based on that same trait is distressing, and actually feels like a slap in the face. I do not click very well with the guys here; our personalities clash, and I know they do not really want me around. It is an unpleasantly familiar situation, yet one I am used to by now.
Perhaps this is selfish of me, but I can’t help but feel it is unfair, and I can’t help but feel a bit hurt, and it gives me a glimpse, albeit small, of what those with gender identity issues, or those who practice homosexuality are forced to endure, and it is exceedingly sad.
I wish I could gather all of those who feel alienated into a single place and tell them loudly and truly, “Don’t be afraid, you are loved.”
The sun stood high above an emerald landscape, and silver-tinged clouds drifted through a soft cobalt sky above the Poggio Alloro vineyard. After eating a fantastic meal of juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce, pasta, and tantalizing soft mousse, we took a brief tour of the grounds, did a wine tasting session, and listened to numerous stories from our tour guide that accompanied us throughout the day. She was telling us that she was good friends with the owners/operators of the vineyard, and that she loved going to restaurants, asking for the vineyard’s specific wine, and being told that they were sold out. She said that meant the vineyard was doing well, and that made her quite happy. Yet, something in her words struck me as unusual, something that reminded me of other related things I have been seeing across Italy. She said, “I love hearing that they are sold out.” How odd.
As is the point of trips like these, I find myself comparing countries and cultures. In America, people are quite upset if someone is sold out of something. In fact, they tend to get rather infuriated. While common with toys and such during the holidays, the idea of stores being out of a food or drink is nigh unthinkable for Americans. The idea that there would be something we could not go out and buy at pretty much any time seems to bother us immensely. We have a ravenous desire for instant gratification, and little patience for things which get in the way of our quest to satiate that desire.
Yet this does not seem to be the case in Italia; patience is a well learned virtue here, it seems. This also seems to be reflected by their diets. For example, meat is nowhere near as common, or cheap, here. Bread, pasta, cheeses, vegetables, are the mainstays. Meat is treated as more of a treat, whereas most Americans dislike the idea of having a meal without a decent amount of meat. Patience, moderation, savoring rarities, all seem to be quite common. Americans tend to lack such moderation. We demand more meat, and instead of simply accepting the idea that meat is a treat, we built massive cattle farms and slaughterhouses which have caused a slew of environmental problems. More and more, I come to believe that simply because we have the ability to build it bigger, build it better, and mass produce it, does not mean we should.
I think, perhaps, that amid the clanking industrialization which powers so much of the world, and now has completely changed our diet, we have lost something important. Our ability to instantly grant our desires has made us spoiled, added to our girth and arrogance, and robbed us of our patience. I cannot help but strongly respect someone who believes that moderation is preferably to overindulgence, and that instant gratification is rarely beneficial. We have many things to improve, and relearning patience in our diet is an easy, and healthy, thing to improve. Our nation is young, and it has many, many things it can learn from other cultures. I think it is time we began to watch, listen, and learn.
Today our jolly group took an expedition to San Gimignano, a medieval city 30 or so kilometers from Siena, and, as often happens when I travel to somewhere new, I was struck by a sort of epiphany.
Our drawing class had just made its way to a small, secluded walled in courtyard next to a lovely ochre-colored brick and stucco church. We sat down on a small stone wall inside the courtyard and began to sketch various objects.
After a few moments of nearly complete silence, soft music started to play. The music fit the mood and the setting so perfectly that the beautiful melodies which drifted through the softly glowing stones and shimmering roses, went initially unnoticed. As it began to grow in volume, and more instruments joined in, however, we all became keenly aware of the sounds. We basked in them, reveled in the warmth of the sun, and the gentle caress of the dancing violins. Our pencils began to twitch with greater ease, as art flowed easily from our fingertips. A supreme sense of calm permeated the air, and a moment of absolute perfection was born.
The music gave way to a voice, then another singular voice, and then another.
Just as we packed up to leave, the cheering began. Everyone gasped as a woman and a man strode out of the church and into the courtyard. She wore a beautiful dress the color of Egyptian alabaster, and he a slate gray suit. They strode through the courtyard with smiles that lit the room, and a cheerful demeanor that was infectious. They passed through the courtyard and made their way to the center of town. Applause followed them the entire way, applause from residents and tourists alike. I was struck by how willing complete strangers were to not only applaud, but laugh, cheer, and even cry with joy. All for people they had never meet, and would never know. It was a moment so stunningly beautiful and undeniably human that it granted me joy beyond my capacity to feel.
Upon reaching the main piazza, the bride and groom, still beaming with delight and surrounded by applause so thunderous it shook the very ground and echoed through every twisting alley, stepped up to a well, and looked into it. Smiling, the man pulled two coins from his pocket. One he handed to his bride, and one he kept for himself. The applause grew quieter, and turned to a low hum as the man gently rubbed the shimmering coin between his fingers, and gazed thoughtfully at it. A grin leapt onto his face and his brides face mirrored his joy. He tossed the coin into the well, and the bride repeated the process.
The applause resumed its cacophonous roll, and the piazza seemed to glow ever brighter. Then she did something I was not prepared for. She looked at me. She looked me right in the eyes and she smiled. Like the touch of an angelic hand, it sent tingles along my entire body. I saw in her eyes a life so different from my own, surrounded by customs and traditions I long to understand, brought up in a land far distant from my home, and filled with thoughts, desires, and people I will never meet. In that moment, I realized just how vast this world is. I realized just how many peoples there are, and that, no matter how much I wish differently, I could never truly understand the infinite complexity that is humanity. Yet, despite the infinite vastness of everything that makes us human, there was clarity in that moment – clarity in that smile. For a moment, I did not see her body, her actions, or what I thought may be her past; I saw her. In that heartbreakingly beautiful moment, I saw joy unfaltering in an ageless soul.
In a single moment, a life can change forever, and in that moment, it was mine. I can’t help but wonder if she had any idea how profoundly her existence has affected me, a total stranger. I wonder what she would think if she knew.
A night in Siena yields sweeping vistas of twinkling lights on the Tuscan hills, and a cool breeze to make the warm nights especially pleasant.
A night in Siena also yields gelato.
Lots of delicious gelato.
I find it curious how many Senese people all seem to just take a walk and grab a gelato in the evening. I see locals meet each other on the streets, clap hands upon shoulders, and kiss on the cheeks. The throng of bodies is heavy but never oppressing, and the shadows created by the thin alleyways and high roofs always create interesting contrasts in the setting sun. The smells of roasted boar drift from shops, and the whine of vespas punctuate the hum of a thousand voices. A thousand voices, all speaking a language I still barely understand. The thought of it makes me a little uneasy, and makes me feel as if I am out of place. Yet, amid the streaking sounds and falling colors, laughter abounds. It is profoundly comforting, and humbling, to realize that no matter how different our languages, our cultures, our customs, a laugh is universally recognizable. The knowledge that, in this world, we are all connected by the trait of simply being human gives me a sense of place and belonging that is unshakeable, even when I am thousands of miles away from everything I have ever known.
I watch these meetings happen all over Siena, and I feel as if I am not watching a town of separate peoples, but a very large family all gathered into one place. I think this familiarity is lost on Americans; our neighbors are often strangers, and our sense of community is at some times flimsy. So, the obvious solution to this problem is that every evening, all Americans should put down their work, step outside, grab a gelato, and start walking. Chocolate, Bacio, Strawberry, Ricotta and Fig, Lemon, Cream, Pistachio – any flavor will do! They should talk to their neighbors, talk to their friends, and talk to those they’ve never met. Make the world a more familiar place, enjoy the gelato, and enjoy the view.
Gelato + A Siena night = Bliss.
After nearly twenty-four hours of travel, though it seems far, far longer, we arrived in Siena. I think that most everyone was actually a little disappointed at first glance. The majority of us seemed to be expecting a brilliantly shining Tuscan sun, sending the rough walls aglow with warmth, and casting stark shadows into the alleyways. Instead, we arrived to the sight of a lovely hill town, bathed in a grey veil of clouds and a slightly chilly breeze. While this seemed to dishearten some, I found exquisite joy in this situation, and I am aware that others did as well. That is to say, if the shining Tuscan sun that is somewhat stereotypical was the only weather we encountered, that would have perhaps been a little disappointing. Seeing a cloudy, slightly cold, and rainy Siena helped us realize, I think, that our new temporary home is not an idealized stereotype – it lives, it breathes, it changes, it does not bow to our expectations, it is REAL.
This dose of realism, especially helpful upon our groggy groups’ arrival, served to shake us from the surrealism which seemed to wash over our sleep deprived minds. Italy, our minds seemed to think, Wouldn’t it be nice to be there. I wonder when we will get there. I wish we were there. Even when we saw the Italian shores outside of the windows of our plane, and even when we boarded the bus to Siena, our thoughts still rang with these desires, not realizing we were truly there. It was not until we stood in a crowded red-brick piazza – buzzing with early evening activity, under a gray sky turned pearlescent by a Tuscan sun, and surrounded by countless conversations using words we did not understand – did an audible gasp and a palpable sensation wash over us.
We were not in the idealized Italy.
We were not at our destination.
We were at the beginning of it all.
We were There.
The busy halls buzzed with activity, and hummed with the pressing weight of so many voices. I stood across from a new friend, a young man I met in one of my classes. “So, why do you dislike history so much?” I asked.
My friend grimaced, and made a slightly exasperated sigh. “For the same reason I dislike Calculus so much. I’m just going in to business, I don’t need it. I will never use it in the real world.
“That is ridiculous,” I said. “you will use the knowledge of history every day.”
Scoffing, my friend rolled his eyes and replied “No I wont. Who cares about long lost civilizations or long past wars fought over long forgotten people. It’s done, it is over. Why care?” Checking the time on his cellphone, he gave me a dismissive nod and said “Time for class; I’ll catch you later.” He turned and strode down the hall as I said a farewell.
This is a sadly common occurrence among people today. History is being increasingly ignored, and the memories of so many countless lives and their achievements are being discarded like common refuse. The audacity shown by people in disregarding a legacy that is so much more immense, powerful, and relevant than they could imagine is not only infuriating, but saddening beyond my capacity to feel. It is an important legacy, an important history. Like it or not, it is OUR legacy and it is OUR history. I feel that we have a responsibility, simply by virtue of belonging to this legacy, to remember it, and most importantly, to learn from it.
As to the claim that “it is done, it is over.” It is far from done. Many people go through life, sitting in comfort and think that the Roman Empire, the Han Dynasty, the Dark Ages, the French Revolution, are long forgotten things which could never happen again. We live in a world of relative peace where the worst threats are a few terrorists, they think. We live in a world where the borders have stabilized, they think. Borders have been as they are since they were born, that is the established way of things, they would never change! This is a most grievous error.
The world, however, thrives on change. And, sometimes, humans like to shake things up. There will be another Napoleon. There will be another Alexander the Great. There will be revolutions. New nations will be born, and old nations will die. Religions will break and shatter, and wars will be fought over them. Peoples will be exiled. Conventions challenged and conventions established. Blood and tears will flow like the great rivers. Peace and prosperity will abound. The Roman Empire became great because it learned from its’ mistakes. The Roman Empire then burned, because it ceased to care about the lessons it learned. This world is always changing, and if we forget our legacy, and forget our past, it will always, ALWAYS, change for the worse.
One of the greatest sins we can commit, is to disregard the memory of the countless lives lived before our own. To disregard their tears, to disregard their struggles, their hopes and fears, would be more profoundly vile, than any religious sin.