Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
One of my favorite Instagram hashtags is #ipulledoverforthis. There is something almost mystical in seeing a photograph before it's taken.
I photographed this barn six years before Instagram launched. The hashtag fits perfectly, though. How could I not pull over to take this picture?
Some months later, I decided to photograph it again. When I got there I stared in silence. It was gone. Not a board or a shingle left, just a large patch of earth, scraped clean.
Whenever I see an abandoned or derelict building, I imagine the owner and family standing at a distance and beaming with pride on the day of its completion. Someone must have had a tremendous feeling of accomplishment on the day this barn was finished.
Yet, today, all that remains of this titanic accomplishment is a patch of earth, the same earth to which the builder and the owner are probably consigned as well.
There's nothing wrong with taking pride in work well done. There’s nothing wrong with striving for bigger and better things. The man in the parable is deemed a fool not for being rich or for building bigger barns but for being self-centered.
It’s all about perspective.
The rich man had a flawed and narrow outlook. If one's outlook is broader, there is a place for pride. Such a perspective must not only see the accomplishment but also a realistic vision of its place in life and its effect on others. Such a vision paradoxically produces pride wrapped in humility. After all, humility is nothing more than the result of being realistic.
A true example. I retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel. At the apex of my career I had all the perks of my rank. I was an important person and had a few medals on my chest prove it.
Today, if I went back to my last duty post, I could not get in the front gate. The fact that I once was important on the other side of that gate counts for nothing. (I would have to root around in the attic to find the medals.)
It's fine to strive to build a bigger barn and to be proud of it, as long as I also realize that someday neither the barn nor I will be as significant as we are today.
This outlook need not be as depressing as it sounds. It is actually quite liberating. The point of the parable is not the death of the rich man but the joy and contentment of those who live their lives with a view wide enough to include people and things that are important beyond themselves.
It seems to me that these days, more than ever, we need a vision of our lives that includes others, especially the marginalized, the poor, the lonely, and the vulnerable.
So go ahead. Build a bigger barn. And when you've done so, look at it with pride. But look widely enough to see those in need and far enough to see the ultimate end of the barn. And while you're at it, consider sharing some of that bounty rather than storing it away.
Including what truly matters in our vision, caring for all, especially those who need us most, will, as Maximus Decimus Meridius says, echo in eternity. The barn, as impressive as it is, will eventually fade away.
(c) 2017 Larry Pizzi
50 years of photographs and 35 years of keeping a commonplace book.