Every time I visit Rome I pay my respects to Marcus. There is a bronze equestrian statue of him that graces the center of Michelangelo’s square on the top of the Capitoline Hill. There he sits in majestic benevolence overseeing the city as he oversaw the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the “five good emperors,” a gracious, thinking, stoic king who ruled during the second century after Christ at the height of the Empire. After Marcus it was essentially all downhill for Rome. He was a humane, philosophical man who wrote a classic of world literature titled The Meditations. He begins this work by allowing his mind to remember all the people who had influenced his life for good and lists the qualities and life-changing values they instilled within him. They are beautiful tributes offered in praise and gratitude to others—a memorial of the mind.
I was impressed by Marcus’s thoughts when I first came upon them and was at an age when impressions can chart life courses. I sat down those many years ago and began to reflect on people in my own life who had blessed me in a similar manner. It was an instructive, grace-filling, and humbling experience and I recommend it to the highest degree. My thoughts instinctively went, as did his, to family members: my mother, sisters, grandfather, my uncle at the ranch, special teachers. Just recognizing and writing down their contributions drew them deeper into my soul and made me even more desirous to graft their qualities into the tree trunk of my own growing life. Having finished, however, the list seemed incomplete. So I added those I consider heroes and heroines from the scriptures. These were souls I had never met who were yet so much a part of my being. They were friends whom God himself wanted me to know; he was the mediator of our acquaintance. Having allowed my mind to peruse the scriptural past, however, other personalities began to surface, the non-scriptural breed of men and women. I realized how very many lives had touched mine. Perhaps more important, I understood how magnificent humanity was and how widespread God’s involvement has been in the affairs of his children. He has many voices with which he speaks to bring truth and goodness and beauty into the world. These he has used at all times and in multiple places around the earth. This discovery had profound implications in my life, and I thank God for Marcus Aurelius meditating in Rome.
Over the years since that first moment of enlightenment, I have added dozens of men and women to the population of my mental city. I am at ease with them and enjoy our conversations across the ages. I feel that I am rich and prosperous in lives! We can all enjoy the vast wealth of wondrously lived lives and make such lovely friends. We are openly invited to explore and draw upon those personal, yet universally overflowing accounts of human experience as need arises. These singular people of the past move within my mind offering counsel, encouragement, comfort, and insight. I must admit that over the years I have also allowed numerous citizens into my mental city who never lived, drawn from the pens and souls of the world’s finest authors, great characters in literature such as Jean Valjean, Atticus Finch, Benedick and Beatrice, Alyosha Karamazov, Don Quixote, Elizabeth Bennet. But that is a topic for another time. Here we will delve into the offerings of real people from history.