By Ted Furlow
Among my favorite places is the Golden Gate Bridge. You can park your car at the toll plaza, walk up to the bridge, and look out over the expanse of the gate. Beginning at Fort Point on the San Francisco side, you can trace the graceful arch of the bridge as it extends to Fort Mason on the Marin County side. It is at the same time, a thing of beauty and a remarkable achievement for the ambitious and imaginative nature of man. Placed in the parking area is a life sized bronze of Joseph Strauss, the Chief Engineer for the bridge, along with a plaque on the pedestal extolling his accomplishments, his experience in building bridges, and his expertise as an engineer.
In 1817 in another era, at another place, and about another pedestal with a plaque, the British poet Shelly wrote a famous sonnet. In the poem he cites the plaque, which says, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!” At one time there was an impressive desert city, a thing of beauty and a remarkable achievement for the ambitious and imaginative nature of man but now Shelly observes that, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Someday in the future, the fate of Ozymandias’ desert city may befall the Golden Gate Bridge. A generation, not yet thought of, may stand at its remnants, read the remains of the plaque and, like Shelly, wonder what it was all about.
The achievements of man are ravaged by time and decay, they eventually fade into history. Yet we love our life of achievements - the diplomas, the certificates, the plaques, the trophies, and the medals. Our achievements write our resume, the visible record of what we did, where we went, and how we succeeded. But the truth is that all achievements, like Ozymandias’ city, have an expiration date on them.
What really counts are the values we accumulate along the way. Our values are timeless, and are the things of who we are and how we affect the lives of the others. They are what we leave behind when we hit our expiration date, and they are all that remain. Our values are our eulogy, and we should be attentive to what they say about us.
Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that life was marked by the dimensions of length, breadth, and height. Length is our love of self as God’s creation. Breadth is our relationship to community and the care of others. Height is the transcendent in our life, our relationship to something larger, our relationship with God.
Life is not about ‘the one that dies with the most toys wins’ but about an obedience and willingness to submerge our desires, and remold them in the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our life is not about “us” but about all of those around us.
We should consider what we are writing with that life, a resume or a eulogy.
Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of San Bernardino.