There was sand as far as my eyes could see, in every direction, except directly behind me where the buildings of the city stood dwarfed by the huge, ancient structures looming over them. The crisp night desert air still lingered, not yet warmed to it’s full scorching heat by the intense Sahara sun. I was thankful for my thin, long sleeve over shirt as we huddled together awaiting our guide to return with our mounts. When he came into view leading three large, two-humped grunting camels my already excited grin morphed into an ear-to-ear, child-on-Christmas-morning, gleeful smile that was fixed on my face for the remainder of the day. I nearly missed that his son had two of the rangiest looking black horses I’d ever seen. They were saddled nose to tail with tired tack from many years serving in the hot sun but I was not deterred. These horses would have been majestic in this setting no matter what they looked like.
“Do you ride?” the boy asked me. I told him I owned a horse back home and that was all he needed to hear. He handed me the reigns and said “good, meet us at the base of the largest one in one hour” then he tended to the rest of my group. I couldn’t scramble onto that horse fast enough. We shot away from our group at full tilt. I was living a life long fantasy of galloping a horse, through the Sahara desert, at the base of the Great Pyramids! I was Jasmine, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra racing the wind for the pure joy of it. I reached the ridge I’d been aiming for and slid my horse to a sand spraying halt in at the apex of the shadows of all three enchanting structures and we stood there. And we stood there. And we stood there. I was trying to wrap my mind around How. How do these exist?
My breakneck flight across the sand had not gone unnoticed. Just when I began to think I’d made some headway in my pondering, two camel riding police officers flanked my sides. “Madam, why were you riding so fast? Where is your group?” “Because it was awesome” was not the answer they were looking for and they preceded to slowly usher me towards where I’d indicated my group’s caravan was making progress towards our intended meeting place.
How? and Why?
Laughter and conspiratorial grins met me from the faces of my traveling companions and guides. Some words were exchanged in Arabic with the policemen. While I didn’t understand any of it, I’m certain it went something like “Crazy American woman. We wondered how far she’d get before she realized the desert really is as big as they say.” The policemen departed laughing at whatever the joke was – me – and we all dismounted to go inside the gargantuan stack of stones. I know our guide talked. I know he pointed out features of the stones, hieroglyphics, and drawings. I also know he gave us each a water from a cooler he’d brought at some point but I remember none of these details. My brain refused to move past pure wonder.
Our group moved back outside and our guide told us we could climb up on the first or second tier of the stones. Literally a mind-blowing moment here! “You’re telling me I can climb and sit on this ancient wonder?!” I squeaked at him over my shoulder. “This would never happen in the US” I declared and we all laughed. He then told us the rest of our tour would be riding around on the ridge line, enjoying a picnic lunch and then heading back. He asked if we had any final questions before we departed and the words “But how!?!” jumped off my tongue before I could make them into a more intelligent question.
The guide knew what I meant. He gave an answer that had some physics in it, some description of the manpower available, but ended it with “No one really knows the full extent of how or of why madam.” Why? My overwhelmed rational brain hadn’t even gotten to that question yet. I don’t know that there’s enough time in a lifetime to explore either of those questions thoroughly and I certainly know there wasn’t enough time left in our camel ride on the ridgeline or the car ride back to the ship. I tried and came up short and with more questions.
That day expanded my mind. I had not realized that I took things for granted until I tried to imagine how ancient, enslaved people stacked car-sized stones high enough to block a desert sunrise before the invention of mechanical cranes and electric stone cutting tools. The enormity of the task pushed my mind to think back on other pre-modern technology structures I’d seen over the years and focus them in my new appreciative light. The Roman Colosseum, Neuschwanstein Castle (aka Cinderella castle) in Germany, and Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Spain came immediately to mind. Truly mind-boggling structures of centuries-long before computers, iPhones, the internet, and any handy number crunching devices we turn to today to work out complex physics problems. When’s the last time you tried to solve even a simple math problem, like your dinner tip, without the use of your calculator app?
I’m right there with you and I’m sure we’re not alone! I don’t spend my days in such amazement at how people used to get by without modern technology that at shirk it all together. I do, however, try to push my mind to think of such details when confronted with wonders from the past. I’ve paused on the Brooklyn bridge to think about how they raised those pillars. I’ve stood under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and thought “if they hadn’t solved the arching brick pattern, this would have been an ordinary flat roof that wouldn’t have inspired millions to seek heaven.”
Why build huge pyramid-shaped stone piles that may never be completed in your lifetime or even your child’s lifetime? Why erect an abbey on the edge of a nearly sheer cliff far from any sizable town? Why invent a new way of laying bricks to build the largest dome the world had ever seen up to its completion date and well beyond? Because it stretches human limits in mind, body, and comprehension. Pushing limits is how we advance. It’s how astronauts walk on the moon, submarines venture to the absolute deepest valley of the ocean, and how so many other “impossible” things are accomplished. We look at the stuff that’s been done before us by others less equipped and go “that’s amazing, what’ll be next?”
What will you do next?
Pushing my mind to appreciate these details in extraordinary structures has given me a can do attitude when facing tasks from routine to truly challenging. I’ve never tried to build a bridge but I have tried to build a desk, train horses, do my own taxes, navigate boats and planes and back country roads, fix a few roofs, put up a few miles of fence line, and do several other tasks that were tempting to leave to “professionals.” So why? Why do them myself or really why do them at all?
To keep growing! To keep pushing limits. To keep challenging ourselves. Those are the reasons to try things, to travel and see new places, to stop on bridges and wonder at the construction. That wonder-filled ride in the shadows of the pyramids inspired me, what has inspired you recently? What are you doing to push your limits? I’d love to hear about it in the Facebook group #365FirstsChallenge.
Or are you feeling uninspired? Stuck in a routine? Wanting to try something new but have no idea where to start? Start your journey of first times and new experiences by downloading the app and joining our group! We’re ready to encourage you.