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I stood there in amazement as I looked at a large embroidered silk screen at the Queen Sirikit Museum in Ayutthaya Province, Thailand.
The piece measured approximately 30 feet wide by 15 feet high and depicted various aspects from historical Thai literature. I was truly mesmerized by the intricate craftsmanship of countless hours spent weaving the threads to tell a story of life in Thailand hundreds of years ago.
The piece depicted all manner of life in a country once called the Kingdom of Siam. It showed imperial castles, golden temples presided over by celestial beings, warrior armies with armored horses, and foot soldiers with swords and spears. It showed elephants mounted by royalty, flying chariots pulled by tigers, and even farmers in their fields, and small children playing in a stream.
The colors were vibrant with gold, red, pink, blue, green, and countless shades in between. It was so well detailed I found myself glancing back and forth, swearing I saw one of the horses adjusting its stance or a bird flapping its wings.
I overheard our guide and friend telling of the scandal around the current king who recently was crowned after the death of his father. He was saying how the crown was intended to go to the elder brother who mysteriously died behind palace walls when he was very young. I was amused at how he told the story with a slight grin and thirst for the gossip around the royal family.
I recalled the last time I visited Thailand when the former king was still alive. My friends spoke highly of their king and the king’s forefathers. They spoke of how these kings had united the country, been benevolent to the people, and most certainly gave positive moral guidance to the country.
I turned my attention back to the silk screen and thought about the contrast of what I had just heard from my friend and the intent of the exquisite historical depiction a few feet away from us. The story told by the silk screen was rich with intrigue showing battles, spiritual and mystical beings, and kings and queens ruling with benevolence. The story depicted was told from writings of a former king, and of course, the stories would be grand and paint an honorable picture of times long ago.
However, if you looked closely at the characters in the scenes, you could also see the imbalance between the commoners and those in power. You could also imagine that there were likely many in that time who spoke of disapproval for their king and circumstances. They too were likely wrapped up in the scandals and politics of the time, being oblivious of all that had come before them.
As my eyes wandered across the piece, I was struck by the history captured by each thread. I thought about how much history has been forgotten by time and the so-called “progress” mankind has made. I thought about how much time we spend distracted by the news stories of politics, mayhem, and suffering around the world.
I looked closer at the piece and focused on two children sitting on the edge of a small pond playing with makeshift boats. I could see the joy on their faces in their simple pleasures. I looked around to see life moving on all around them and thought:
What were they thinking in that moment? Did they hold anxiety in their hearts about the suffering of their time? Or, were they just living in the moment enjoying the time they had together?
After completing our tour of the museum, I found that I spent less time looking at the landscapes and artifacts around me through the lens of my camera. I found myself being more present with not only the ancient ruins of the old city but also with our Thai friends who genuinely enjoyed hosting us in their country.
I thought about the legacy I will leave behind for generations to come.
With our world becoming more virtual and disposable, I considered what was truly important to me and what impacted me most with my friends and family. I realized it was the time they spend with me sharing stories of their life’s ups and downs and connecting at a deeper level. I truly loved and thrived on these connections and this was a big clue as to how I can impact others in a positive way.
Time moves on, and eventually, all material things will turn back to the dust in which it came. I believe it is the personal connections we make that will live the longest in our hearts and in the stories we will tell generations to come.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?