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Family Cruise: Paul on Perspective

EGYPT - I was raised to be immortal.

The first year I went to school, my teachers told me I could be anything I wanted. A rocket scientist, a famous artist, the president of the United States—there were no limitations. Anything was possible. If you worked hard, they told me, history would not forget you.

High-school calculus dashed my hopes of ever computing rocket trajectories. Art classes at a local community college showed me I had a poor sense of proportion. CNN taught me that leading the country is much less fun than it looks through the eyes of a six-year-old.

Later, college forced me to specialize, requiring that I pursue just one passion and leave the rest behind for another day (or another six-figure degree). I watched my friends select more practical (and lucrative) majors over professions that had been their dreams. I felt the slow squeeze of reality twist at my grade-school imagination. In fact, I had almost lost my sense of no-holds-barred ambition, but then I visited Egypt and regained my perspective—although not in the way my father hoped. Forget what my father says about humility. That's tired, old-man thinking. Egypt makes you feel like you, too, can become a king.

I'm marveling at the gold-encrusted sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen in the Egyptian Museum, tourists packed tight, shouldering each other for a glimpse of the legend. This boy, who ascended the throne about the same age I would have been entering the fourth grade, who came to power more than 1,000 years before Christ, still commands attention.

I'm staring at the twin sentinels at Luxor Temple, towering statues with their faces vandalized by ancient Christian and Muslim invaders who aimed to destroy what they saw as the paganism of the Egyptian empire. The scars remain, but the figures still stand.

I'm crawling into the heart of the Great Pyramid, once the tallest man-made structure in the world, supposedly built to entomb the Pharaoh Khufu. My fellow travelers and I sweat in the dank heat of the narrow passageway, braving claustrophobia, to stand in the exclusivity of another's resting place.

When I emerge, I look at the rest of the pyramids and the Sphinx, overwhelmed by wonder. All this, built from desert. I put myself in the sandals of the great pharaohs. Perhaps, in another time, I could have ruled this land. My orders could have built temples. My words could have changed the direction of a people. My actions could have rewritten history.

But then I remove myself from the past tense. Although thousands of years separate those ancient leaders from myself, I can still see the lessons they've left strewn across the desert.

If all it took was one Tutankhamen, or one Cleopatra, to forge a legacy, than all it would take is one Paul Kita.

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