Nomads don’t build pyramids; farmers do.
I am fascinated by pyramids and always have been. Going to Egypt is still on my bucket list, but I have made several trips to Central America to explore Mayan pyramids.
Pyramids are the ultimate expression of a legacy in stone. Centuries later, as we gaze in wonder upon their slopes or scale their heights, we want to know their builders’ stories.
Pyramids teach a number of lessons about how to leave a legacy, some positive and some negative, some obvious and others more subtle. I’d like to mention one that is important but perhaps less obvious:
Pyramid builders were not nomads or hunter-gatherers who roamed from place to place. Such transients could never have accumulated the resources required to construct a pyramid.
Before they erected awe-inspiring pyramids, those ancient builders mastered the decidedly un-glamorous work of plowing, planting, irrigating, weeding, cultivating, protecting, and harvesting their fields, season after season. They patiently tended their flocks, year after year. They successfully nourished their families and communities. A long-term commitment to agriculture was a prerequisite to successful pyramid building.
Without crops, there were no pyramids. Pyramid builders were farmers.
They understood and practiced what Stephen R. Covey called “the law of the harvest.” “All lasting results are produced in a sequence, are governed by principles, and are grown from the inside out.” Before you reap, you must sow, you must water, you must weed, and you must cultivate. There are no shortcuts.
This spring I returned to my agrarian roots.
I grew up on a small family farm in Fruitland, New Mexico. When I say “small,” I’m referring to the farm, not the family. The family was large, with 13 children.
We raised much of the food needed to feed so many mouths. Besides milk from our dairy herd, we grew fruit trees and raised chickens, pigs, and a few beef cattle. But the garden was the heart of our self-sufficiency.
For us children, the garden represented endless work: plowing, fertilizing, planting, hoeing, irrigating, thinning, picking, washing, canning. But our parents understood that we needed the food and, more importantly, we needed to learn how to work until the job was done, every day, all summer long.
Since those youthful days, I’ve dabbled in gardening with varying degrees of success, but those early lessons mostly lay dormant. But this year, I was able to secure 2½ rent-a-rows in a local organic community garden and put those long-fallow farming skills to work.
The results were pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.
It required hard work, patience, tenacity, and timely counsel from an experienced local. It required steady, persistent attention, week after week, throughout the long growing season. There were no shortcuts. My fellow gardeners who neglected their rows lost much of their crop to weeds, bugs, and poor yields.
These lessons apply to legacy building as well as gardening.
I think the era of constructing stone pyramids is over. Our most important legacies, I believe, will be the impact we have on the people we care about. I agree with Pericles, who said that what truly matters “is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Creating a significant and enduring legacy requires a long-term commitment to our most important associations. It requires that we master the decidedly un-glamorous work of planting, weeding, irrigating, and cultivating the relationships that matter to us most. It requires shepherding our flock with love and patience and kindness.
When it comes to farming and legacy building, the law of the harvest still applies. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes, no overnight successes.
Nomads don’t build pyramids or lasting legacies. The wanderer who believes that fulfillment is waiting just over the next hill or the drifter who thinks the grass will be greener if he moves on to the next hook-up will not, in the end, have the resources required to produce a meaningful legacy.
At the end of his life, the relational gadfly will find himself alone and forgotten. He will discover to his chagrin that a man all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small bundle, and that small bundles are seldom noticed or remembered.
The quality of our legacies will be a reflection of the quality of our lives and our relationships. Monumental legacies are left only by those who make monumental commitments to the people they love and then keep those commitments.