Monday, January 16, 2017

Egypt: Time and Immortality

My view of the expansiveness of the human spirit was widened in Egypt--what we humans are capable of building and creating is staggering. But more than anything, the tombs, temples, and pyramids reminded me of our common universal desire: to be remembered and to live forever.
The immense scope and vision of the ancient Egyptians amazed me every day. Their aim to be architects for the passageways to paradise was remarkable to behold.
Several weeks ago I lost a dear friend to ovarian cancer. I had planned to attend her funeral, but was on a trip with my family in Egypt during the holidays. It was impossible to leave with my family around me. I knew her death was imminent, but the news still wrung my heart. I just wanted to laugh one more time with her or hear her insightful reflections. Thoughts streamed in: Had I done enough to comfort her in her suffering? Had I learned the lessons from her that I needed to implement in my own life? Did I understand her wisdoms that she unfailingly shared-- to love boundlessly and bring lightness and laughter to every room? I realized then she knows passageways and portals I have not entered yet.

Tresa and I at a Girls Ranch, about to have a barn dance. She was always up for a laugh. But more than anything, she was someone who loved without any borders or obstructions. 
When I heard of her death in Egypt, I shook off my tourist eyes. Instead, I saw the pyramids and temples from another angle. Everywhere I looked I saw deeper meanings in the tombs and temples-- of the yearning to live forever. My scope was widened. As I gazed out at the sands who had known prophets, priests, and pharaohs, it was simple to visualize Napoleon's armies, Cleopatra, the eleven Ramses, and hosts of others parading across my view. Whispers of their echoes filled the corridors. Dynasties swooped by like a bird overhead. Time, like rushing wings, flew by as in a panorama. The walls of hieroglyphics, thousands of stories and people, voiced their cries to be immortal--to reunite their mortal body with their 'ka' or soul. Ancient armies and cities had built these wonders. And none wanted to be forgotten in their ephemerality.

Here is a collage of portraits from the Roman times in Egypt (lasting about 700 years, after Alexander the Great). The portraits are on a temple in Luxor, painted over some hieroglyphics--about 25 feet above the ground. To stare up at them, I was reminded again of our universal desire to be remembered, memorialized, and live forever.

In the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Sphinx, there were long entrance channels cut deep into the rock, begging to be explored. In a few corridors, I became a little teary-eyed, seeing these paths, so fastidiously engineered and built (and covered floor to ceiling with instructional hieroglyphics). These stones were designed to be a map of the stars--a map to go to another world where there is no death. The corridor was a book of instructions on how to reunite the body and soul. There were hieroglyphics chiseled on the walls, with signs and symbols to help the deceased to enter another world or paradise--just in case they forgot the words. Egypt is a constant reminder of how all civilizations earnestly try to bridge life and death--to find that elusive path to immortality.

In the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, there is a wall of Greek portraits from the tombs--of all ages and genders. I stood in that room for a long time, gazing at each portrait--people who had lived over two thousand years ago. As I looked into their gorgeous faces, both young and old, I was again astounded at the inescapable ache to live again after death. I was also struck that this woman could be my next door neighbor. Each seemed so assessable--despite the passage of two millennia.

At the entrance of the Sphinx, there was another long narrow stony passageway. The stones in the walls were carefully placed to represent the sky, with the exact distance of the constellations in place. With the knowledge of these stars, the sojourner could travel from this mortal life to the next world through the cosmos. Likewise, in the tomb of Ramses the IV, there were cobalt blue clouds and bright yellow stars swirling above me, as if the navigator were on a quest to find the greatest of treasures--immortality, resurrection, 'ka.' Descending down the sloping pathway of Ramses 1V's  final resting place with the stars above me, I felt the perennial yearning in the walls to live on--that this earth life of several decades was not nearly enough for them. Immortality beckoned.

Showing the wall to wall hieroglyphics in a tomb.

At the Saqqara, the first known pyramid that was built. I like the fact that it was a "practice pyramid." Just like anything that is build that is auspiciously grand, there must be diligent workmanship and discipline to make the edifice.
Surprisingly, in this desolate Egyptian wilderness so far across the world from my friend's funeral, I was enlightened. even comforted. In the dusty sand, time stood still for a few moments for me. With pyramids, temples, and the flowing Nile close by, it was wondrous to see these memorials of an ageless quest for eternity, of having life without end. It made me remember that someday all of us will walk the portal to another world, where light, brighter than the sun of Egypt will shine. And that we will all stand in a judgement of our heart--to measure the weight that has been shed in our lifetime. The aim? For our hearts to be as light as one single falcon feather.

The Day of Judgment: Here is a picture of the process to to reach paradise that was known as the afterlife, what the ancient Egyptians had been striving for their entire life. They believed that the deceased spirit came to the Hall of Judgment, and had to stand before 42 judges, reciting words to them from the Book of the Dead. These specific words provided access for them if their innocence was not complete. Next their heart would be measured with a ceremony.--to see if they had been virtuous and upright. If their heart measured light, they were able to pass to the next world. You can see the symbol of ankh in the gatekeeper's hands.

This is a symbol that is ubiquitous everywhere in Egypt: a cross with a handle on it called the
 ankhThe meaning of this token in the mummy who receives it is eternal life--never to die again. The ankh is a key obtained at judgment (after your heart has been weighed), which unlocks death's portal for the departed one.
I love this picture of Elias, with the symbols of the ankh in the pharaoh's hands. The idea of eternal life, knowing the right words and signs to give at The Day of Judgement is what they earnestly aspired to in their mortality.

A picture of an anonymous Egyptian friend or you could even say "rescuer." When he saw that I was paralyzed with fear when the rest of my family ran across four lanes of speeding traffic (no crosswalks to be seen), he came from the other side of the road to stop all the traffic to guide me across. He bravely, resolutely began walking across the lanes, looking like he was an angel stepping on air, and held up his hands to motion the drivers to stop. If I am at the The Day of Judgement with him, I will vouch that he has a heart that is the weight of a feather.
The striking image of the falcon feather and The Judgment Day reminds me that we do not come to that final judgment alone. Our hearts are infinitely carved and sculpted by the myriads of people whom we have known in our own panoramic view--our mortality. A slice of forgiveness here, a jot of acceptance there, a large portion of mercy given at necessary allotments. The final desired product, a weightless heart, representing a feather, as the Egyptians believed, was casting off all those suffocating human feelings that weigh us down. Egypt was a reminder after my friend's death--to use mortality to discard the rubbish that can cling to our human hearts. Hearts were not only meant to be mended, but to be lightened.

Thanks, dear Tresa Chamberlain. for leading the way down the corridor, for teaching me to keep a light heart, free of  needless weight. And to remember there are other worlds to venture, shiny paths to cross. You are just a little further ahead in the passageway.... It is a noble journey we are all on. As one of my favorite songs exclaims, "There is no death above." And thanks to Egypt for stopping the fleeting, dizzying pace of time--for just a moment.


  1. The only thing Tresa requested for her funeral was for us to sing all verses of "If you Could Hie to Kolob". "There is no end to glory, there is no end to love, there is no end to being, there is no death above". Thanks for all the light you share.

  2. That is interesting. I didn't know that. It is my favorite song too.

  3. Cynthia Pannell sang it at Dolan's funeral. He loved that hymn. I'm glad you had your own spiritual awakening in the pyramids of Egypt. That was a good way not only to commemorate your friend's passing, but to deeply experience a union with all who pass through mortality. You would have enjoyed her funeral, I'm certain, but quite a lot came to you on this trip. Perhaps it was meant to be. But just so I'm sure you'll come to my funeral, I'm inviting you now to speak at it. ⛩

    1. Wow! I feel honored, but hopefully, that won't happen for a long time. xo

  4. Wonderful! I've never been to Egypt, but I have played FROGGER on a huge, busy street in Aman, Jordan with my family. I thought we would all die right there--like bugs on a windshield. It was terrifying. You are so brave! We missed you at Tresa's funeral. It was so beautiful, and it meant so much to my girls that they got to sing. My Lizzy is teaching the song to our YW and they are singing it at our Stake Conference Saturday meeting.

    1. Go Lizzy! I am glad you all got to go to Tresa's funeral. I guess I had to go to one in my head--in Egypt of all places. xo

  5. My condolences on the loss of your dear friend.

    Mentioning your love of the song "If you Could Hie to Kolob" seems to have stirred emotions in a lot of us. I remember in 1997 when your grandmother Emily Myres passed and away we sang that hymn at her funeral. It was the first time I really paid attention to its beautiful words and I've loved it ever since. I just recently started to follow your posts. Thank you for your blog, you have a beautiful way of sharing your life's experiences. You are your parents child. I love everything Myres:)

    Cecilia Kerstiens

  6. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Thanks. Glad you liked it. More to come.....

  8. Your gift is as fresh as ever Mar Bear. So sorry to hear about your friend, but so glad you found solace in such an amazing place. Thanks for guiding the rest of us along those storied corridors. Love you!!!

    1. Thanks for your continued vote of confidence of me for so many years, dear friend!!!!