Thursday, October 26, 2006


Written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 10-26-06:

You've been getting so many directions from so many people on so many things for so many years. What to do, how to dress, what classes to take, what major to choose, what job to work, what vacations to reserve, what bills to pay, what things to buy, what goals to set, what what what what what what...*what*. Directions, telling you what way to go in your life.

And it didn't get any easier when you got into this thing called triathlon: what schedule to follow, what workouts to do, what routes to stay on, what times to fill, what distances to go, what intensities to hit, what food to eat, what calories to burn, what races to enter, what goals to set, what what what what what what...*what*. Directions, telling you what way to go in your sport.

All of this...and *what*. And never any wondering as to *why*.


The Inuit peoples of the North American Arctic were known for culturally unique practices. Among them was a habit of erecting stone cairns across their lands. Invariably built to roughly approximate standing humans, these stone edifices were placed in remote locations as varied as waterways, open tundra, barren glacial fields, and empty rock flats. Early European explorers, mystified by the human-shaped stone formations spread across the barren permafrost, referred to them by the Anglicized term "inukshuk."

Subsequent cultural education and anthropological research revealed that the inukshuks were built as directional markers conveying ulterior meanings of hope, friendship, safe passage, good shelter, available food and water, and remembrance of the supernatural. The stones, in short, gave directions to traveling Inuit peoples about where to live, sleep, eat, drink, travel, congregate, and worship.

One question, however, that persisted among researchers was why the stones were placed in the shape of humans. Scholars know that stone cairns are prevalent throughout human culture and history around the world, but the use of human-shaped cairns was unique to the peoples of the North American Arctic. Academics spent years speculating as to the question of why they were the way they were.

The answer, ironically enough, came from direct conversations with the Inuit tribes of northern Canada. Their reply was that theirs was a world of overwhelming isolation, of endless sky and roaring winds, vast fields and barren glaciers, blinding snow and frozen earth, stretching as far as the eye could see and the soul could hold, and empty of everything save the awesome realization of utter desolation that consumed the insignificance of a solitary human heart in the great expanse of the void of deep eternity. It was because of this, they said, that the inukshuks were shaped as humans. It was because, they said, so that the universe would know that "we were here."

All of this...and what...and then the wondering of why.

So the universe will know that we were here.

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