Modern-day coliseums are massive structures. They come by their size and design honestly. The Arena in Verona was built in the 1st century. It predates the Colisseum in Rome and is a massive structure that standing inside its walls boggles the mind. While coliseums today are used for a variety of cultural events and places of gathering, ancient times were no different. The most popular — and most expensive — events held at arenas were the gladiator games, which were sponsored by politicians and wealthy aristocrats originally as a religious rite to honor the death of a loved one. The idea that a life for a life allowed for safe passage of the deceased in the underworld and they believed the lives of the slaves used in the gladiator ritual were valued less than that of the life of the loved one who had passed.
Eventually the religious meaning and overtone of the gladiators’ spectacles transitioned into a much more secularized vehicle for securing votes and/or maintaining popularity status among the citizens. In preparation for the games, event staff would cover the floor of the coliseum with sand because sand would absorb feces, urine and blood, all of which were in abundance during said event. The Latin word for sand is harenam and over time this word became synonymous with the structure and today we still use a derivation of the Latin when we refer to an arena.
Roman citizens LOVED everything about the gladiator games: the gore, the blood, the fight to the death, the fascination of death by any means, the spectacle, and the voice they shared in the fighters’ destiny (because if a gladiator requested his life the crowd collectively voiced their opinion and the loudest vote won).
Mob rule. Hysteria. Peer pressure. Ambulance chasing. FIRE! Rubber necking. Popular vote.
Does any of that sound like a modern experience?
I’m sure the ancient Romans loved the games because they didn’t see themselves as participants, only spectators. They had nothing to worry or fear. It was all fun and entertainment for them. And the gladiators? I’m sure they lived in fear for their very lives every single day they were in captivity and in training. It’s noted there were times gladiators took one another’s lives in the barracks where they lived and trained, in the most humane attempt they could access, to preserve themselves from the spectacle of the games and their imminent and horrific deaths once they entered the arena.
Do you ever feel like a Roman citizen with a ticket to a game in your hand, caught up in the energy of the crowd, pulsing with the opinion of the masses, exhilarated to be part of something bigger than yourself, a perfect seat with an excellent view of what’s unfolding in plain sight, but far enough away it can’t possibly touch you or those you love.
And do you sometimes feel like a gladiator, sand strewn at your feet and what training you’ve been given is all you have as you step into the arena each day, engulfed with that feeling of complete and utter aloneness and you can barely squeak out, “Help,” because you are frightened, scared, unsure if you are surrounded by friends or foe.
What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. — Henry David Thoreau
While visiting the Collisseum’s busy gift shop I lost sight of my eighteen-year-old, which wasn’t a big deal except I wanted to give her the water bottle I’d just purchased for her. Standing next to another choir mom I laughingly said, “I can’t find my daughter!” Immediately a little boy of about 9 or 10 (in full search and support mode) grabbed my hand and said to me, “It’s okay. Tell me exactly what she looks like!” My heart instantly filled with the miracle of love and the access we each have to love no matter where we go, no matter what age or size of person — the universe is always supporting us and providing for us exactly what we need exactly when we need it. And sometimes that support comes in the form of a child leading the way and reminding us that everything is always okay and if it doesn’t feel okay, help is only always a vocalization away.
Speak your truth. Feel your feelings. Ask for what you want and ask for what you need.
Be a listener. Be available. Be a helper. Be a safe space. Be accessible. Be open. Be a light. Be a reminder. Be a friend and a friendly face. Be a hand to hold. Be the help. Be the YES. Be the miracle. Be you. Be love. Be the universe for those around you.