My friend Matt and I took a trip through Southern Ireland to find the Blarney Stone outside of the town of Cork. This was an important quest for us because, unlike the impression I give when I write, I do not possess the gift of eloquence when I speak. Legend has it that those who are fortunate enough to discover and kiss the Blarney Stone will be gifted with the silver tongue of eloquence immediately. Winston Churchill, GK Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and many others were among those who experienced this phenomenon, and now Matt and I were next in line.
The castle has an impressive keep that rises about 100 feet out of the mud and you get to venture through three different levels of the castle before you make it out to the parapets. As we were going through the castle, we noticed all of the signs that asked us not to add to the graffiti, but also the occasional sign that informed us that some of the graffiti remained from the 1800s. When we further investigated some of the carvings, we found this to be true. Some of the signatures were really amazing, and I was mesmerized looking over wall after wall of people who wanted to carve themselves into eternity. Would I be one of them?
Graffiti is certainly nothing new: it is as old as the first civilizations of cave painters. There is some impulse within humans to long for eternal glory. By this I simply mean having their names achieve the status of lasting through the generations, either for something they have accomplished or simply because of the fact that it is carved into a tree. There must be some common human need to be remembered, to leave a legacy, to matter after we are gone. Why else do people carve their names in everything, including my classroom desks?
Another sobering thought to accompany these is the sort of thoughts that find you when you walk through a graveyard. I am not a graveyard frequenter, even though they make for nice photographs, but since almost every English church has one attached to its backyard, you spend some time in them. If you have ever been to a graveyard that is more than 200 years old, you will notice the tragic reality that many of the carvings of gravestones have eroded over the years. There are a few stones that still survive from the early 1800s, but the stones before that rarely do. You have to bring wax paper and a pencil to be able to lift the names and dates off anymore. This is a sobering fact that we should all deal with: we get 80 + years on this planet and that is it. When we are gone, we are gone, and outside of relevatory texts like the Bible, that is all we can tell from our human observation. As legendary as we would like to be, the fact is this: we will be put into a box in a ground, a stone will be put over our heads that reads our names for maybe 100-200 years before the rain and the wind erodes the rock away, and then we will be no more.
No one likes this fact, nor does anyone like to think about it. But no one can help thinking about it, as we can tell from how much graffitti there is in the world. We must think about it and act on it, or else our emotions will tear out of us and demand that we matter to someone somewhere, even if it is on a school desk. If we can safely say that there is a need for us to matter and to exist, then it is also fair to say that it is part of the human condition – it is written on our hearts. We need to take action and find the answer to that longing for eternal glory. It could be the most important question any of us ever answer, and I can think of a place that says the exact same thing.