Warning: the following post has absolutely nothing to do with AR. Rather, it has more to do with my own reality that has been augmented by some knowledge ;-D
Considering that right now I’m in the midst of temporarily relocating to California, wrapping up research and packing, it seems rather insane to sit down and write a blog post. However, when the Muse speaks, I’ve learned that it is important to listen and, at the very least, make notes.
I went to Rome in mid May, for among other reasons, to celebrate my birthday. Being by myself afforded me with the time to internalize many things and appreciate much in my life. It’s rather unusual for me to share my insights with the world but I felt compelled to do so.
Rome was, is, and will always be an amazing city. From the Campidoglio to the Palatine, from Trastevere and Testaccio to the Vatican, Rome will always leave you with a sense of awe, inspiration and with blisters on your toes from all the walking and dancing that’s there to be had. Al least, I have blisters and hopefully you will too should you ever visit it :-D. I spent a lot of my time on this trip around the ruins of Ancient Rome. It was exhilarating to know that one was standing on top of thousands of years of history. Think of it: perhaps at that very spot, thousands of years ago, a Roman citizen could have witnessed the cremation of Julius Caesar, or seen Hadrian’s triumphant return from Jerusalem, or just stood aghast as the Goths ransacked the Eternal City. Rome is teeming with stories to tell those who are willing to listen.
Though, not all stories need be ancient. While I was contemplating the view of the Roman Forum as I sat perched atop the Palatine Hill, I was mesmerized by the whispers of jazz that emanated from the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. What the song was, I do not know (though I know it was clearly sung in English). However, the melody was soft and serene, soulful and forceful, and the singer sang with a pain in her soul that was palpable. I could not help but be moved by the music and the setting, and I scribbled down my thoughts and recorded what little I could of the moment. Perhaps later on, I will expand these thoughts and commit them to pen and paper.
At this moment in my life, it would be a shame if I went to Rome and did not have any “Dolce Vita” moments to share. Rest assured, I did :-D . During the weekend, I met two fellow travelers at the Colosseum, who were basking in the sun and enjoying the view, whilst taking pictures and chit-chatting. After joining in their conversation, they invited me to come along with them in their plans for the day. Which, in fact, were no plans at all save to get some food, Peroni’s (Italian beer) and just walk about Rome. The Germans have a word called “Wanderlust” to describe the strong desire one has to wander around, which is exactly what we did. Throughout the course of the day, we played music in front of the Forum with whatever instruments we found, made nonsensical hand gestures that described in detail the woes of traveling through an area affected by an active volcano, embraced the history around us and made stories up whenever we were not aware of what the actual history of the place was. All the while imbibing from the drink of Dionysus, found cheaply at the local supermarket. Looking back, I must say it was great to be able to relax and enjoy the moment with good company. While I did not partake excessively in the consumption of alcohol, I was able to appreciate why the god of wine and drink is also known as the “Liberator”.
And yet, at the end of it all, after one of our party left us at the Spanish Steps, and the remainder of us sat in awe at the beauty of Vatican City, I had to admit that, while this moment was great, an existence based on just enjoying these kind of moment is a sad and empty life. For example, if the only way feels one is able to “liberate” oneself is solely through the use of alcohol, well… those are just excuses now, aren’t they? In the end, alcohol can never force you to do anything: it just gives you a short blanket of plausible deniability that will never truly cover up your actions. At the end of it all: there is no substance to a life purely dedicated to pleasure seeking. There is nothing that one can reflect upon and say with pride “I did this and it has made the world better”. Then again, a life without any sort of pleasure is a cruel and hypocritical life. I believe Kahlil Gibran said it best: (see inset for quote)
Pleasure is a freedom-song, But it is not freedom.
It is the blossoming of your desires,
But it is not their fruit.
It is a depth calling unto a height, But it is not the deep nor the high. It is the caged taking wing,
But it is not space encompassed.
Ay, in very truth, pleasure is a freedom song.
And I fain would have you sing it with fullness of heart; yet I would not have you lose your hearts in the singing.
I would encourage you to read the rest of the poem here, as I believe that the entire poem, not just this quote, is apropos to the topic at hand.
Like a flash, it dawned on me that for the past year of my life, I have been living a lie. I have been trying to live and enjoy a life of the pleasures of the “here and now”. Perhaps this has been so because I’ve felt I’ve been missing out on the things typically done by people of my age. And in part that is true: for some time I’ve wondered what it was like to enjoy the moment without worrying about its repercussions, how it will affect my life later on in the future.
While that lesson is valid, it has been learned at the expense of losing a big part of who I am. As I was strolling along the river Tiber, the night after my “Dolce Vita” moment, I realized this. I realized that for several years now (and large part over the last year), I had lost myself in myself. Before I left for Rome, a great friend told me that she didn’t see in me that spark, that fire that burnt deep within me in years prior, and that she hoped that I would regain it once more. I think that in Rome I was able to rekindle that fire in me. Though right now it is a small fire, with time and dedication, I hope to make it grow higher. Only time will tell.
Speaking of friends, I met up with a good friend and colleague while I was in Rome. One night, as we were having dinner, he said in the conversation the strangest, yet most poignant thing: “Everybody is expendable”. I’m not so sure how I feel about that, or whether I agree in whole or in part. Sure, you could argue that some people in one’s life are expendable (like someone who cheats on you, or leaves you alone while “visiting” someone else, or casually forgets to send you a birthday wish), but I think I disagree. I don’t think anyone is really expendable: everyone has a lesson to teach us, everyone has a purpose in one’s life. The trick is to embrace the lesson they have for us. To imply that someone can be tossed aside is to refuse to acknowledge the effect (whether good or bad) this individual has had in your life. And, really, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.
And as the dinner carried on, I caught myself thinking about friendship and what it means to be a friend. I had not seen or heard from my friend in several years, yet he welcomed me with open arms when he knew I was in Rome, took me out to dinner, showed me amazing sights for my birthday and, in the end, appreciated me for myself and also the bond we shared. I again remembered something I had chosen to forget: friends are not a convenience. You should never consider a friend those you reach out to you only when they’re lonely and need someone to talk to, or whenever they need your help. Friends are those people whom you are proud to be associated with, who will tell you the truth especially when it hurts, who look out for your best interest when you yourself are not able or willing to. “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves”, as Edna Buchanan said, and like all decisions, it should not be taken lightly or abused upon.
There is far more to tell about Rome and about myself than I can write in a blog post. I do not know what this new year in my life has in store for me. I’m sure I’ll have good moments and not-so-good ones. But, if I can remember and keep prescient the lessons I’ve learned in Rome, I will be my best by my standards. And in the end, that’s really all one can ever hope.