It was a hot day in Rome. We were walking around the city when my brother led my family and I over to the ruins of the Forum. In front of us lay a smattering of old buildings that had been eroded by time into small, jagged pieces. Many stood only a few feet high and in some cases much more, but from where we stood atop the hill, there were only outlines of what used to be.
Standing in stark contrast to the crumbling stone and cockeyed pillars was green shrubbery everywhere that engulfed large portions of the ruins.
It’s the romantic in me, but I’ve always felt so touched by places like these. They are ghost-like; so much like a hollowed hermit-crab’s shell you’d find on the beach: empty, vacant, and incomplete. It only makes me think of my mortality and how one day we will all be just as forgotten as the people whose feet once walked across these floors.
These places are sad to be around but it also makes me want to find more. I wanted to close my eyes and bring the life back to them…to reestablish the energy and spirit that’s been lost.
Yet it wasn’t just the emptiness of these old wrecks that cut me deep, it was the way that the earth grew over them, as if it was more than just the passing of time that had deemed their life over, but Mother Nature too had kindly said, “you’re time here is done”, and proceeded to grow over it without a chance to fight back.
There’s a quote from Hamlet that has always been my favorite:
“A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a/
king, and cat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.”
A few lines that succinctly describe what it means to be one part of the natural cycle of life. Even the worms, those lowliest inhabitants of the food chain (without becoming too esoteric here) share a common denominator in the earth and passing of time that has the power to inevitably swallow something was once as mighty as the Roman Forum up in a tangle of shrubbery and vines. In the end, as desolate as it may seem, we are all simply food for worms.
I remember one particular part of the Forum there was a building that had a burst of brilliant purple flowers growing all over it. Of course it was beautiful to look at but the strong scent of the flowers nearly knocked me off my feet. “Woah” , I thought. Here was the most perfect example of life and death and echoed the words of Hamlet so perfectly.
Amongst the rubble of that building, as sad and wrecked as it was, there was new life within these pungent flowers that were so much a part of this world you couldn’t help but smell them. They dazzled in the sunlight and would not allow my nose to cease taking in their floral scents. It wasn’t their old life, but it was still life that the remnants of the crumbled building carried with them. As if these old Roman ruins had refused to go down without a fight; resilient and steadfast even in their apparent death.
And marveling over the stalwart wreck that stood before me, I wondered silently to myself if one day, in the ground I would smell that sweet.