Sandcastles in the Desert

Once upon a time, somewhere in the desert…sort of

“Well shit, that’s it then, isn’t it?” I whispered to my buddy as a nearby camel spit a wad of what I can only describe as phlegm an inch too close to my shoe.

I want to say it was a long journey, I want to say that we conquered a Lawrence of Arabia style mad dash through the desert over forty days and nights, nearly dying in the process. But the reality was that a cab took us there and was still waiting patiently, the driver chainsmoking somewhere behind the makeshift stone gate that cordoned us off from the beggars and self-employed illegal tour guides. But from where we were standing, there were no gift shops, no groups of rambunctious Ammurhrican tourists and nothing to look at but the three of them and their ever-vigilant, noseless guardian of the afterlife.

But there, meandering in front of the last standing wonder of the ancient world, something about the momumentality of it wanted to make me fall on my knees in humble appreciation. I mean, I didn’t do it; pulling a Platoon by the pyramids seemed a bit overdone, even for my taste. But there was something about being there, in front of this inconceivably massive testament to the persistence of memory that made you feel utterly insignificant and powerful beyond measure at the same time.

Staring at them was like finally meeting someone you’ve secretly creeped on Facebook; you know so much about them, you’ve seen a million photos, you’ve fantasize about your meeting or conversations you’ll have, but once you get there, once they’re real and right there in your face, you’ve got absolutely nothing to say.

I wondered if Caesar felt the same when he came to Egypt and stood here over two-thousand years ago, or whether Napoleon felt small and insignificant when he conquered the country for shits and stood triumphantly by the Sphinx. Probably not. Part of me likes to believe that Napoleon lit a smoke and hihihi-honhonhon’d his way onto something else while Caesar was busy staring at Cleopatra’s magnificent… nose. But then again, Napoleon died in exile on St-Helen’s and Caesar got the equivalent of a Roman Empire drive-by on his way into work one day. The pyramids? Those three just kept right on truckin’, I doubt they even noticed.

But I think that was it, wasn’t it? There we were and there they were, standing on the same ground, feeling the same blistering hot sun Egyptian sun beating on our peaks, but the reality was that one day I will die, and my children would die, and their children would die, but the big three would still be right here, forever unmoving, unchanged. Wars would be fought, plagues would ravage countrysides, and these three would watch it all happen and shed no tears for us doomed to decay.

I felt caught between worlds. Behind me was bustling Cairo, a concrete jungle of tooting horns and massive minarets while in front of me, the greatest structure ever built was backdropped against what looked like an endless wasteland of golden sand dunes.

It felt humbling, like being in the presence of someone great who will never remember you but you’ll always brag about meeting. You want to let the guys who built it know that what they did stood the test of time, but you can’t because they’re gone. You want to hang out and have a beer with the Pharaohs, congratulate them on a job well done, but they’ve all been graverobbed out of history. So all you can do is stand there and face the realities of a world where we occupy only a strangely conceivable sliver of time, but are therefore defined by what we chose do with it, nothing else.

“Those are some pretty big sandcastles there, huh’?” one buddy back home remarked when I showed him the picture.

“Yah,” I smiled. “Something like that.”

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