One of the coolest things in Rome, in my opinion, is the Basilica di San Clemente. What appears to be a normal church – at least normal by the standards of Italian churches – turns out to be the location of a part of history quite unique to the city. Rome is the lasagna city, as the new Rome is built on top of the old one. This is why there’s no subway system: every time they dig, they find some 2000 year old ruins and have to call the archeologists and stop the excavations. Another name for it is the eternal city, as it’s history has been preserved so well.
This basilica models this theme perfectly: it is built on top of an older church, which is built on top of some aristocrat’s house where they held cult meetings during ancient Roman times. So you can quite literally walk through time and see how Rome has progressed through the years in its architecture, theology, culture, artwork, etc. It’s truly amazing. Jake Lynn and I walked through most of the ruins together and spent most of the time trying to understand what the cult believed in. We’re still lost, but that’s okay. The rest of the time was spent trying to wrap our heads around how old the stone we were standing next to was. Our conversation looked something like this:
*touches the wall*
“Dude, this Stone is literally as old as Jesus.”
“Yeah, like when people lived here, Jesus to them was some guy from Nazareth.”
“2000+ years ago…”
“Wow… what does that even mean?”
“It’s 100 times as old as us.”
“It’s 10 times older than the founding of our country.”
“It’s almost 150 times as long as we’ve been in school.”
We stood there with our hands on the wall for a good 10 minutes going back and forth about ways we could understand what 2000 years meant. We probably looked like idiots to the rest of the tourists – but what tourist has ever looked like a rocket scientist? Once we finally felt like we had a good grip on what something that old meant, we realized how much history had been going on before that house was built. We didn’t even try to wrap our heads around that. The realization we came to was we are playing a role in a story so much larger than our own lives, and that was humbling and empowering at the same time.
We’ve seen a lot over the course of the last month. We’ve learned about how to respect the memory of those that are oppressed and how to maintain the knowledge of what can go wrong based on what has gone wrong; we’ve seen how even the biggest castles can’t defend us from Gods plans; I jumped out of an airplane and experienced one of the most beautiful places on Earth; we climbed to the top of the Alps, we felt the gentleness of the breeze on the sea and the peace of Riomaggiore; we learned from some of the greatest minds in history about art and its significance to the world as well as how generations can change and shape a culture, enjoyed world class gelato in the countryside of Tuscanny; and our experience came to a close in Rome. It’s amazing how much we have accomplished on this experience: it’s more than words can really convey.
But very little of that matters to the majority of the world. Few people are going to care that I skydived, or ate a bunch of gelato, or went in a bunch of museums. What matters is that we spent the last 3.5 weeks getting closer to each other and figuring out ways to relate to people who would have no connection to us from the outside. The reality is, we are all human beings, and human beings have been around for a while. And since everyone had to come from somewhere, there’s a good chance we all have a connection to every single person on Earth through the history of humanity and its struggles.
I have no idea who walked through that ancient Roman ruin when it was in its prime back in the day. But I do know that they were human beings, that they had families whom they loved, kids they were trying to raise, bills to pay, and a job to do it with. Something some random dude in Riomaggiore told me was that his son had just finished traveling around the entire world, and the one thing he learned was that it doesn’t matter where you are, or how far from your house you stand. People are people. They all have so much more worth than any adjectives can prescribe them.
We have this shared humanity that spreads across time and space, and it’s necessary to recognize the intrinsic value that we all hold. When you think about all of this, it’s hard to treat anyone with anything other than love and respect.
So as Cultural Routes 10 comes to an end, I feel all of the same bittersweet emotions as everyone else. And I think that we all recognize how powerful the knowledge we’ve gained is, and how much influence we can have in helping the world out by working together.