In my last visit to Jordan i met an elderly holy man in Jerash. His knowledge about the ruins was very impressive and he offered to show me around.
As we walked around the site, taking in the triumphal Hadrian's arch, the hippodrome, forum and temples of Artemis and Zeus, haji Muhammed told me that he visited those ruins almost everyday.
"Look all around you and try to feel what it must have once been like" he said as we strolled down the Cardo and all at once it was easy to imagine that colonnaded street alive with the footfalls of its original inhabitants. We continued for a while in silence and then i asked him "why do you like coming here so often?" What he told me in response will stay with me forever...
He said that those ruins had helped him over the years to remain religious and humble and lead a righteous life. He must have seen the puzzlement on my face because he explained "Look at this once great city. Great kings have ruled here...people trembled at their power and might. They were once creators of history and the rulers of men...they must have done great deeds...some good, some bad, some even terrible... but today all that remains of them is this ruin....nothing matters today...everything has bitten the dust...none but a handful of historians remember them. I think it is sad this oblivion of the once invincible, and this keeps me humble and strengthens my faith."
In the years that i have been travelling, i have visited many ruins with touristic interest - from the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, through the outpost of Palmyra, Syria to the cham ruins in Hoi An, Vietnam; but that day among the ruins of Jerash, i learnt an important lesson about life. Then, standing on the steps of the hyppodrome i gazed in wonder at the world around and silently whispered a poem by Shelley, read so long ago....
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.