Mariah, a sophomore at BYU, is currently a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center.
I am lying here catatonic on my bed. I’m not a big studier for tests but I did study a fair amount yesterday and into the night for our epic Ancient Near Eastern Studies midterm. I finished the test literally moments ago; some people are still in there taking it. When you’ve been eating and drinking a particular set of material, even quizzing yourself in your dreams (that really happened), you somehow think that you’ll pour it all out onto your test, and then not have to do anything with it again. I’m sitting here, test in someone else’s hands and chock full of all of this information I don’t know what to do with.
I heard somewhere that you only transfer information from your short-term memory receptors to your long-term memory storage during the second four hours of sleep in a night, so maybe I should just sleep for eight hours straight right now. That way this ancient stuff would be glued in forever and always-ish.
This midterm was rumored to have an essay on it, and so I got into the test prepared for all the possible essay questions by storing up a whole mess of facts and implications of things and dynastic achievements and names and dates. But there on the paper under the label of short essay was a question I hadn’t been expecting. Here I am prepared with someone else’s wealth of knowledge at my fingertips, and I am asked my own opinion about what “golden thread” touched me about the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent .
The question forced me to sit back for a second and reorganize my brain. I quickly flipped through the rolodex in my head that I call my human/emotional side and ask what was touching in that class before I went objective and crazy. I remembered talking about the Egyptian obsession with eternity, and how it was not a fear of death but a confident affirmation in the continuity of the good things in life.’ That kind of optimism and appreciation of simple pleasures was one of the keys to the prosperity of one of the greatest civilizations on earth.
Once the Old Kingdom fell into decline, this coveted eternal life was democratized. Where once eternity had been reserved for those who were noble and great in man’s eyes, now it was available to all whether they acquired wealth and power or spent their whole lives working the land and unrecognizable behind a mask of dirt and sweat. Now it was sufficient to say, “I was a good little man.” You didn’t have to do great things or make way for yourself anymore; you just had to keep chugging away where you could and make the most of what you’d been given and that was enough.
Sometimes these articles are written over a whole day (sometimes more than one day), and I just came back from an evening synagogue service to welcome Shabbat. I don’t speak Hebrew, so I couldn’t always follow along in the prayer book, but I was satisfied just to look around and admire the joy and spirit of the people around me.
I watched one man with a fedora walk in and right up to someone in the front row to greet him with a hearty (or is it hardy?) handshake with the most intoxicating grin I’ve seen in my life. At one point they had the kids come up while two adults tried to keep them settled and singing as the happy congregation looked on. There was a woman, all in black, patiently smiling as she tried desperately to keep a hold of a particularly squirmy child. These people may not ever be rich or famous or well known. They were barely a passing fancy in my life, and I’m sure none of them will get the chance to personally touch yours, but they can rejoice in the fact that they are good.
Even ancient Egypt holds for me a lesson that can truly be applied to the human/emotional me in my daily life. You can’t single-handedly save the world and not everyone is going to do earthshaking things with their lives, but it’s when each person finds their individual niche and pours their heart into it that the world can really change. I’m studying to be an actor, which I acknowledge could be a total bust, but if I can be even a little bit like those people in the synagogue; doing their simple part with a smile, then I can confidently and joyfully say at the end; “I was a good little man.”