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Gordon Monson: Who’s going to remember you when you’re gone? The eternities will.

We may not outlive Rome’s Pantheon on Earth, but what we do here and now, large and small, matters.

(Francesco Lastrucci | The New York Times) Visitors outside the Pantheon in Rome in 2022. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson wonders about human contributions that, like this iconic landmark, will stand the test of time.

Sooner or later, many of us, no matter how shallow we can be, no matter how limited the far reaches of our minds are, start pondering some combination of our own mortality and the long run straight into eternity.

What’s that going to look or be like for us? For you? For me?

In a sudden moment, what redirected my thoughts from the most important personal matter at hand — what I was going to eat for lunch (it teetered back and forth from a prosciutto-and-cheese sandwich on a white baguette to three large slices of a Margherita pizza an Italian dude down the block had an hour earlier promised me was the best pie in town) — was when I found myself staring at a single ancient massive column with splotches of gray, brown and beige scattered around its base.

That’s right, I was sitting in the famous Pantheon in Rome, looking at the wonders of the folks who designed and built the oldest freestanding dome structure in the world, a building that was still holding strong after 2,000 years of wear and tear. It made me wonder why the roof on my neighbor’s house had to be reconstructed after a mere 20 years. And why the toaster I bought a decade ago was now kaput. The Pantheon’s role had been switched through the centuries from Romans honoring the memory of Greek mythological gods to becoming a Catholic cathedral, but none of that mattered much to me as I looked around the room now. By the way, my parents’ toaster lasted 60 years, even after I stuck a knife in it to retrieve a burnt slice of Wonder bread when I was 10 and nearly sparked a kitchen fire.

As I studied the weathered column inside the dome, and considered everything that had happened on this planet since it was first put in place, I stopped thinking about the baguette and the pizza and wondered whether I had contributed or would contribute anything to this world that would last.

Do you ever wonder anything like that?

It’s crazy, I know.

Professionally, I’m certain nothing I’ve written about sports or religion or life can come close to competing with the Pantheon. The only written words from my generation that can or will do that were penned and sung and played by John, Paul, George and Ringo. Little else, it seems, has that kind of staying power.

So what have you done inside your job that really matters?

The value of work

(Gordon Monson) Jesus on the cross on display in Rome's Pantheon. Many Christians, Tribune columnist Gordon Monson writes, believe Jesus’ life, resurrection and Atonement mean that we’ll all, in one form or another, outlive the Pantheon.

There’s value in any kind of hard work, and maybe that provides reward enough, financially and emotionally, for the one doing the sweating.

My wife and my five kids, and eight grandchildren, are, for me, where lasting, meaningful contributions enter the frame. I write that carefully because not everyone is fortunate enough to have had those opportunities as a part of their life experience, and I figure those folks have found significance in other pursuits. Good for them.

One thing religion is decent at is giving hope to souls like mine and maybe like yours, too, that even though mortal years are relatively short, eternal years do go on and on and on and on. Many Christians believe Jesus’ life, resurrection and Atonement mean that we’ll all, in one form or another, outlive the Pantheon and glorious that outliving will be. Other religions also offer that hope.

Nonbelievers believe that’s all a load of hooey, philosophies made up by wishful thinkers who can’t handle the truth — that we’re all going to die and when the lights go out, darkness is all that remains.

As skeptical as I can be, I don’t go there. Why? Because I really do believe in an afterlife, that because of what’s been done for all humans, by way of You-Know-Who, there’s a whole lot to look forward to with the ones we love in the Great Beyond. If you don’t want to believe that, then don’t. But I do. Conversely, I’m not willing to chuck this life and what we do in it into a big bin of nothingness. What we do here, can do here, is important, even if it seems less than meaningful, less than lasting.

I’m not talking about earning our way into heaven, storing up points of righteousness for the Grand Scorekeeper in the Sky. Bag that. I’m guessing that unless we do something really stupid, really awful, really heinous, we’re pretty much all made men and women. Sorry to compare God’s kingdom to the Mafia, but … grace is good. Not only good, but powerful.

Small deeds loom large

(Gordon Monson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rome's Pantheon in June 2024.

I’m talking about contributing positive things to this world. Treating others with kindness. I look at it like the father who hauls the family’s laundry out of the washer and dumps it in the dryer is doing something good. The mother who logs hours dropping off kids at soccer practices and dance recitals is doing something good. The teacher who patiently answers young students’ questions, class after class, day after day, year after year, is doing something good. The neighbor who stops to greet and pet your dog, as your dog wags his tail at 1,000 RPMs, is doing something good. The columnist who writes his 5,000th opinion piece, only 2,500 of which you’ve disagreed with, is doing something good, even if it criticizes the Jazz for making dumb competitive choices.

None of that will outlast or outlive the Pantheon. None of it will push aside the earthly years longer than the massive beige, brown and gray stonework inside that building. Our deeds, big and small, will die along with us. But that doesn’t mean they’ll stay dead.

Remember what a famous fictitious Roman general — Maximus Decimus Meridius — told his army before entering into battle in the movie “Gladiator”: “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”

It’s not just Beatles songs.

Now, with that all settled, with the doors to the Pantheon behind me, I’ll go back to choosing between the white baguette with the prosciutto and cheese and the three slices of Margherita pie.

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