It’s easy to feel bigger than the world. After all, we’re always inside our own head, so it becomes our world or at least our frame of reference for it. Sometimes we just don’t see any further than ourselves. But there are times when I’m reminded that the world is so much bigger than I am. No, I don’t have to descend into a volcano, jump from a plane, or climb a huge mountain. Sometimes it only takes something small.
I recently stumbled upon the ruins of what would have been a nice old country home, near Beaver Valley, Delaware but over the state line in Pennsylvania. It may not seem like much, maybe four or five rooms, but approaching it from either direction, you find it perched on a hillside looking down on the previous owner’s world. My guess is that it overlooked a retention pond and a mill that local history says was there. Almost 200 years ago, someone lived and slept in that stone house. Maybe they worked the mill or fished in the pond. But there was life there…200 years ago…and it lingers in the ruins.
Even closer to my usual routine, right on campus, is a building that is almost as old as the old mill house near Beaver Valley. Old College was built in 1834 as the first real building for Delaware College, a spin off of a much older academy. My hometown in Mississippi didn’t even exist then, and it always felt old to me! How many students have come and gone at UD since Old College was built? How much life has passed through that building that now seems small in comparison to the rest of campus? Imagine how different the world is since Old College was built!
More than a few places remind me of how even the largest ambitions are small in the scheme of things. There are grand estates gone to ruin or that are now public places, because they are now just too big for the dreams of one. There are old rail lines, where the tracks are long gone, never minding how much money and labor was spent on bridges and grading to move the goods of a few. And of course, nature loves to remind us of how puny we are, whether with its expansive size, or it’s own ambitions that far outlast ours. And it works its magic whether we’re there to see it or not.
We are small. That doesn’t mean we have to dream small, but it should humble us enough to not want more than we truly need. It should also remind us to leave some good behind, because those who don’t are quickly forgotten. We’re only here for a little while, and the world won’t remember us much.