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Family Cruise: Joe on Perspective

EGYPT – The name of every college contains a big U and as a result, many new grads assume they are the center of the universe. My son is no different. One of the chief reasons I brought him on this trip was to humble him, to teach him that a man must continually be balancing the conviction that he matters with the knowledge that he ultimately doesn't.

And so we arrive in Egypt, a country that can humble you like no other with its age, its enduring character, its wisdom, and  its wonders.

It's a blasted country really: largely inhospitable, mostly sand, brick-oven hot. Were it not for the Nile that ribbons through it, the ditch that is the Suez and a lick of coastline to the north, nothing would exist here. We have just three days to see it all, to cover the vast distances between sites, and to try to comprehend.

We begin in the Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamen, Ramses, and other pharaohs and nobles were entombed. We head to the Luxor and Karnak temples, both colossal tributes to the gods of a bygone empire. We catch our breath along the banks of the Nile, sipping sweaty bottles of Stella beer as the sun sets behind the sails of graceful falucca boats. We stand before the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza, still stately despite an adjacent Kentucky Fried Chicken and the invading tourist hordes. We peek at the 27 blackened corpses encased in the Royal Mummy Room of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. And finally we step through the doors of the Library of Alexandria, and I secretly type my name into the search catalog to see if any of the books I've written are listed. Fittingly, none are.

Now that Paul has seen these things, which dwarf anything he's ever seen, my hope is that he'll forever see things in a different way. He may not have realized it immediately because he was too much of a slack-jawed spectator, but later—when it's his turn to embark on some big project—I hope he'll find that he has perspective. When deadlines loom and supervisors crack the whip, I hope he'll stress less because he'll know that time is relative. And if he ever starts to feel overwhelmed—if he begins to sweat under the burden—I hope he'll recall that there are 2.3 million stones in the Great Pyramid, each weighing 2.5 tons. How could a primitive people have built this 4,500 years ago? Stone by stone, boy, stone by stone.

After visiting Egypt, you feel your smallness; but at the same time, you still want to do something big. It pumps you full of possibilities. But Egypt has one more lesson and it is a vital one.

Around the pyramids, there are many Egyptian entrepreneurs with their camels. For a dollar, they'll let you climb aboard and even take your photo. But when it's time to get off, there will be another price—maybe $10, sometimes $20. Of course, you'll protest, you'll swear, maybe you'll even wave for a security guard (who'll either ignore you or ask for another $5). And in the end, you'll pay.

It's one thing to rise above, to stand tall in the stirrups, to look toward the horizon, but don't be so preoccupied with your vision that you lose sight of the details and, most important, how you got up there in the first place.

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