Consecutive Days Riding: 122 Days Blogged: 104
New Mileage: 6 Total Trip Mileage: 875
I spoke yesterday about pilgrimages and about how they may represent trips to a specific places or journeys seeking answers to a question or a particular experience. Today we’re going to visit what I call a unique inspirational pilgrimage site. It’s not a site that carries any spiritual or religious significance. It is a site that leads us to ponder important questions about life choices and the meaning/purpose that we find in life.
We have traveled today to the city of Kissimmee Florida, south of Orlando. In the center of town stands a monument that has been described as: “quasi-folk art offering in an area known mostly for its parasitic tourist attractions”. The history of the site began in 1942, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A local citizen, Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis wanted to create a physical symbol of American unity in these dark days of World War II.” He wrote letters to every state governor, or at least the lower forty eight, and to President Franklin Roosevelt. He asked them to send rocks representative of their state. He was reported to have received a wide assortment ranging from blocks of granite, chunks of quartz, boulders, fossils and pieces of old buildings. By 1943 he had constructed a 50 foot tall “pseudo-pyramid of tarnished colored concrete slabs.” Each slab had a rock embedded in it and was inscribed with the donor’s name and location. At the top of this structure, he had a concrete sculptured model of the earth topped with a bald eagle holding an American flag. Throughout the year, local tourist officials added walkways that included stones from the two new states and from some 21 countries. The monument was described as “the biggest tourist attraction in pre-Disney Florida”.
How is it that this quaint monument deserves recognition as a pilgrimage site? I believe it speaks to the basic human need to find meaning and purpose in one’s life. For Dr. Pettis and perhaps for those assisting him, it gives them a purpose and a sense of doing something to help lift the nation’s spirits. The existential psychotherapist Victor Frankl believed that being “human beings” meant that we all deal with certain Ultimate Concerns. One of these is the issue of meaninglessness. He argues that life has no inherent meaning, that it has meaning only because we choose to embrace goals, beliefs, actions and journeys that give it meaning. He states that one way in which we find meaning is to look for ways in which we can feel and label ourselves as “special”.
I tell my students that I feel special being the father of my two sons, I feel special being their teacher, I feel special for the art I create and for the blog I write. Notice that I said I feel special being/doing these things, not that I do them perfectly or that I am the best at any of them. When I see sites like the monument of states, I see an individual who wanted to do something for a greater cause, something to bring together the community and the nation. This desire and source of meaning fueled his actions and gave him purpose. I’m sure it helped him rise above the day-to-day struggles; it helped him meet challenges, when news from the war front was disheartening. In my search for pilgrimage sites I’ve come across several locations that fit this category. Some people would call them oddities, unworthy of our attention or a waste of time.
One of these sites, the Coral Castle near Miami, involves a location filled with odd and unique sculptures made by a Latvian immigrant in seclusion, as he suffered through a “broken heart.” He spent a life time carving these sculptures, some people believed he worked with supernatural powers. He is long dead now but people visit his sculpture garden to this day. The other site, Solomon’s Castle east of Tampa, is a castle constructed out odds and ends and filled with unique artwork of the living artist. The structure is both studio and gallery. He built a ship on dry land next to his castle which now serves as a restaurant.
Not only do these undertakings give purpose to these individual’s lives but they could also act as an inspiration for all of us. They raise the question: Where do you find significance in life. What makes you feel special? You don’t have to build the imposing rock and stone monument? Many people choose a project in their community such as helping a Museum, or donating free time to help mentor children in a boys and girls clubs.
The existentialists believe we must have meaning in our lives if we do not we will experience a sense of despair. However, the thing that gives our life meaning is purely our choice! It can be something as small as making supper at home each day for the family. Or it can be something that calls us to reach outside of ourselves toward higher goals and social causes.
One of my friends asked me why I blog by asking: Do you think your thoughts are so important that everyone needs to hear them? The answer is no, but it does give my life meaning. I release my words into the blogosphere, they may turn a few heads, they may garnish a few smiles or nods of agreement, and occasionally they generate a comment or two. But the meaning for me comes not in other people’s responses; it comes from the efforts to uncover questions, find answers and express them clearly. Within my daily journey I find my meaning in small joys, like a friendly smile, the smell of coffee in the morning, and the satisfaction of posting another day’s blog.
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