Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace by Carolyn Berry
Recently I served as chaperone for my daughters 7th grade class at “The Splendors of Egypt” exhibit in Portland. The Egyptian culture endured longer than any other in Earth’s history, spanning more than 3,000 years. The skills of ancient Egypt’s artisans were stunning. I was captivated by the Egyptians’ foundational belief in the eternal soul. And I felt a whimsical resonance with their practice of worshipping cats.
I learned my deepest lessons, however, from the covey of 13-year-old girls for whom I served as a blend of chaperone, compass and conscience. Through them I realized anew how overloaded we are in this culture — youngsters and adults alike — with synthetic sensory stimulation.
As we stood at a display which held the ornately decorated wooden sarcophagus of one of Egypt’s king, one girl commented that she’d seen a picture of this very coffin in a book where the gold paint had looked a lot more like “real gold.” Another observed that even the postcard in the gift shop looked better than what lay beneath the Plexiglas case. My heart ached. The museum’s natural lighting on ancient wood overlaid with pure gold simply couldn’t match the intensity of technically-enhanced color resolution.
At tour’s end as we approached the mummified body of a long-dead Egyptian king, their disillusionment peaked. “Aw man, he looks like he’s made of paper maché! I thought he’d be really gross or something.” Within 30 seconds, they were in the hallway headed for the gift shop.
I stood gripped with the vision of this breathtaking shell of an ancient human life, arms crossed over his chest, eyes closed, lips parted slightly to reveal teeth like mine, long toes and longer fingers numbering ten each. The fellow being lived thousands of years ago. A human life, marked by dreams, joy, grief, accomplishments, challenges, relationships, intellect—just like mine. I was awed to stand before him, transfixed upon his remains. But the girls were long gone, so I pulled myself away.
I caught up with them in the gift shop. I watched as they whooped their excitement about the really cool pictures and brightly colored miniatures of the priceless Egyptian artifacts we had just seen with our own eyes. Or had we . .?
On the ride home, my daughter leaned against me soulfully.
“What’s wrong, honey?” I asked as I slid my arm around her.
“It’s just really disappointing, Mom.” Her voice was trembling. “It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. The real stuff looks fake to me, and the fake stuff looks really cool. It just doesn’t make sense! I just hate it that life is that way.”
Stroking her hair, I could only say, “I know. That’s certainly the way it seems.” We would have a longer conversation at bedtime, in those precious moments when moms and daughters whisper conversations that they have with no one else. For now, I sat silently with my daughter and shared her grief.
I wondered what kind of values we are passing on to our children. What trinkets and baubles do we buy them to placate the growing emptiness . . . both theirs and our own? My daughter articulated a chief cause of despair in the world today. She described one of the primary factors motivating many to step out of mainstream, seeking new ways to relate to our world.
We are quickly approaching a time of magical potential. This “clean page” of a new Millennium. A time to rescript our lives and turn our focus back to what is real, based on a myriad of clear lessons from the 20th century. We can learn to discern between synthetic and authentic—and to value the latter. Thus, we hone the ability to choose wisely, ultimately releasing our addiction to artificial glitter, allowing the eyes of our souls to capture the deep beauty and rich textures of a life that is real.
Tonight I close my eyes and send these heart wishes out into the Universe: that all children now and the children of coming generations experience the depths of an authentic life and of beauty that is real. I wish the same for us all. Namasté.
Carolyn Berry is a speaker and writer about authenticating and simplifying our lives. She welcomes readers’ comments by mail at PO Box 612, Salem, OR 97208-0612, or via e-mail.