Wonder
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I'm always amused by what people find wondrous about a place. In my long life, I have overheard the conversations of those enamored by the majesty of the temples, spoken in tones hushed by awe of grand buildings, or even those too dazzled by the sight of the sun shining on mirrored glass and beaten gold to say much of anything.

There are also those that delve into the mysteries of philosophical scripture, that wonder at endless strands of poetic verse, or follow the adventures of a heroic epic. And those that gape at technological marvels, or shudder at awesome feats of destructive science.

Not always grand, these wondrous machinations, for science and magic have also allowed us to explore and modify the microsphere as well as the macro. There is wonder in watching the first glimmer of life as a heart begins to beat in the unformed chest of a foetus, or in observing the march of endless nanites crushing the infestation of a foreign pathogen.

And the works of prayer and faith, from the chanting of a thousand thousand voices lifted in solemn verse towards the heavens down to the quiet notes of earnest faith echoing in the whispered prayers of a child before bedtime. All sing in the same key, each a thread in a grand tapestry that all too many forget when simply seeing the trappings of what lies beneath.

I think, and I'm sure that I am not alone in this, that all of those things are wondrous indeed, but pale in comparison to that which gave rise to such workings.

People, and the incredible spark of life that each of them carry.

As one who has had the benefit of watching this tapestry unfold from very nearly the beginning, I realize I have had a bird's eye view of the whole affair. As such, I've been witness to the most staggering highs as well as the tragic lows in the accomplishments of man. Each time, the resilience and capacity of the human mind to create such incredible things astounds me.

But even without that perspective, one needs only to look back over man's past accomplishments to catch a glimpse of this incredible array. Walking through the precincts of Karnak, one cannot help but imagine the tread of a thousand ancient footsteps echoing through the hallways of time. Climb the heights of Machu Picchu, and it seems like the very air itself is filled with the voices of those long-dead Incans as they call to each other across the centuries.

If the sky is too much, stoop below the streets of Alexandria to crawl through the tunnels of Kom el Shoqafa, or wander the endless catacombs of Paris, Rome, London, or Malta. The stink of death is sweetened by the rolling clouds of funereal incense, the chanted prayers of countless mourners offering their love and benediction on behalf of those that have gone before.

But the majesty of tombs is not limited to carefully carved etchings in the ground. The vast mortuary temples of Kemet are testament to faith in the afterlife, as is the endless march of mausoleums in New Orleans, Banditaccia, Père Lachaise, or Naqsh-e Rustam.

Perhaps monuments to the fallen are too macabre? What about the monuments to industry and finance represented by the gleaming canyons of Manhattan, Tokyo, Shanghai, or Dubai? One can walk for hours and see the sky only as a slender azure ribbon high above or reflected in the gleaming facades of steel and glass.

We cannot speak of creation without also touching on the magnificent works of artistry existent within the purely aesthetic creations. Symphonies, poetry, endless worlds and universes crafted with word and paint and dreams and light. As vast as anything created using the more mundane tools of science and architecture, these monuments to human creativity are limited only by man's capacity to sense that which was created.

Some of these breathtaking creations are ephemeral, lasting only long enough to be enjoyed by a single person. Some endure, taking places of honor in galleries, museums, or sitting in pride of place on a mantelpiece or hanging from a wall. Incredible arrays of delectable consumption, set out upon a table for an evening's enjoyment last but for that evening, but the memory lingers in the hearts of those that partook.

Even these aren't always grand, but are equally as memorable. The perfect dish made for a quiet evening at home with a loved one. A dazzling story told once to an enraptured audience. A quiet lullaby sung in the darkest hours over a crib containing a child that will not remember the words, though the tune will echo in their minds their entire life.

I fear, however, that in all of this talk of grand monuments, we will overlook the small things that really make up what it means to explore the human existence. Insubstantial things that people have tried for centuries to craft physical representations for. All of this vast work that rises above or descends below is the product of man's boundless ingenuity and capacity to work collectively towards a common end.

Even that, however, is not astonishing in its own right. Do not the lowly ants and termites work together to create their own labyrinthine megastructures? It is not merely scale that allows man's reach into the heavens or descent into the earth. It isn't the ability to work collectively that has cast man's gaze across the stars, or fueled humanity's pathway to different worlds.

Curiosity, mayhap? To see what lies beyond the horizon, to go where no one from this Earth has yet traveled, to answer the "whys" and "what ifs" of the universe? Or perhaps it is ambition? The drive to leave an undeniable mark to indicate to anyone and everyone that "WE WERE HERE!" is a powerful one, especially as man seeks to legitimize its existence in a cold and uncaring universe.

That surge towards legitimacy hasn't always been a force for creation, however. Millions of lives have been snuffed out through the ages by man seeking to prove who was right and who was wrong. Even so, vast resources have been wasted on trying to prove who was right, only to prove yet again that a greater power will often triumph over a lesser one. It has been my experience that might is only "right" in who gets to tell the story, but rarely ever right when it comes to moral certitude.

No, it is none of those things that encapsulates what it means to be human. Rather, it is the amalgamation of it all. Humanity persists, through hardship and through prosperity. They have the capacity to create stunning works of art, horrific tragedies, and moments of utter magic, all in the same breath. Humanity itself, in all its frailties and majesty, gentleness and sadism, power and fragility, that instills me with such awe, such wonder.

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From the desk of Issa Antar
Priest-Scribe of the Goddess Neith
May Her Name never be forgotten.

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