Waxingandwayneing’s Weblog

September 25, 2008

Standing on Their Shoulders

Filed under: The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 10:44 pm

We spent the last eights days travelling around New England, seeing so many great spots in Portland, Maine, central Vermont and New Hampshire, Boston, Nantucket, Providence/Newport, Rhode Island, and southern Connecticut, on our way down for week of insanity in New York City. We met a lot of very nice people, ate too many meals of fresh and seasonal foods, and saw a plethora of extraordinarily beautiful nature. The leaves are changing (actually, they are returning to their true colors as they lose their chlorophyll) and the air is starting to feel like fall. If this trip was just for the people, food, and beauty, it would have been enough. But there was so much more.

As we drove and peddled through the various towns and hamlets along the way, it was impossible to miss the history oozing from this area. We saw Plymouth Rock, Lexington, the Touro Synagogue, the mansions in Newport, quaint colonial settlements, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Brown, and the Starbuck homes of Nantucket. We rode on the same paths travelled by the very people who created America, the brave pioneers who left the comfort of their homes in foreign countries to build new lives in a strange land. We particularly were moved as we walked through a number of very old cemeteries to read the various tombstones, memorializing the lives of generations of families, consumed by war, accidents, or sickness.

To see fresh flowers on grave markers of people who died in the early 1800’s or to visit towns with their welcome signs indicating their beginnings, marker s, e.g., “Founded in 1737”, you start to feel so small, so minor when measured with the perspective of all those years. Living in Southern California, where a house built in the 1950’s is considered old, allows us to feel our lives are really important. Travelling through New England, you realize how many generations came before us and contributed so much to enable us to enjoy the lives we live today.

I felt this deep sense of respect for all those people—not just the famous ones—who devoted their lives to building this country. Certainly we have strong feelings for the Founding Fathers who decided that a united group of states was worth struggling to create. But what about the ordinary men and women who came here to begin anew and build better realities? The ones who plowed farms, built bridges and roads, and opened general stores did so without any recognition or fame. Had these people behaved insularly, without any regard for the future, our country would not have flourished.

This trip has reminded me so deeply that we are all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. We so seamlessly cash in on the dividends earned from the efforts of people we will never know.

One of my college roommates recently contacted me after he read a few of my blog entries. He pointed out the relevance of “Why Are We Here”, an examination of how bereft of importance our lives have become, as we live from day to day, week to week, year to year without regard for meaningful contributions. So consumed with consumption, so focused on the “here and now”, we rarely stop to think about what we are leaving as our legacies, what role we will play in making our world a bit better than when we inherited it.

So travelling around in New England has given me a nice gift. I have a new appreciation for yesterday’s heroes who lived their lives with a conscious feeling for the future, with the knowledge that the positive impact they made in their communities far outweighed any recognition of their efforts. Better lives for their children more than justified their personal sacrifices.

Perhaps we can start to live our lives with these principles in mind. Let us work to define who we are by how we improve the lives of those around us, by the deeds we do to build a better tomorrow. Let us find ways to live more simply—consume less of everything—and leave more for those not here yet. And let us be ever conscious that those yet unborn will one day need to stand on our shoulders. How strong and broad will those shoulders be?

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