I heard an expression the other day that I had never heard before. Someone said, “I’m at my Pompeii best.” Being too embarrassed at my lack of understanding, I didn’t respond. I tried to puzzle out the meaning of it for myself later by visiting a website with information on Pompeii.
Apparently when Mt. Vesuvius erupted on Aug. 24, 79 AD, the people of Pompeii were caught by surprise, died instantly and were forever captured in what they were doing in their last moments. They had been quickly assaulted with deadly gases and covered in 18 feet of debris and ash. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1800s, the remains were excavated. Apparently the city’s structures were surprisingly preserved as well as the remains of those who inhabited it.
Well, the bodies had decomposed, of course, but the impression of what they were doing and where they were doing it was left in clarity in the molten debris for centuries. And then some smart-alecky scientist made molds of these human impressions to bring them to even more clarity. But who wants to spend their immortality with their finger in their nose? Who wants to be caught scratching areas that are not socially acceptable? And this may not pertain to anyone I know, but who wants to be caught in a bed at a house that is not their own?
And thus, I gleaned, was the meaning of the expression of “being at our Pompeii best.” We just never know what might be our last physical action, our last place of visitation, or the moment our bad habit is captured for eternity?
Being our Pompeii best is even more complicated in this day and age. All that we say can also be captured through modern technology. What we write online can be retained in any part of the world. If we have a Vesuvius moment in our lives, not only would our physical selves be captured but our thoughts and emotions of the moment could be too. I don’t know about you, but there would be times that I wouldn’t want to be “Vesuvius-ized” and captured in that exact moment for all eternity.
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Just think. What if we had just posted on Facebook some disgruntlement, had had a heated conversation on the cellphone where angry words were exchanged before we cracked open a beer, lit up a cigarette, and scratched that itch that had been bothering us since earlier in the day? And then bang ... we have that Pompeii moment. If we had been allowed to survive for one more day we might have quit smoking, quit drinking, apologized for our rude behavior, withdrawn our Facebook comment, and used a lotion to calm the affected area. But now there would be no chance. In the year of 2533, some archaeologist might reconstruct our existence and it would be shameful.
I thought about what my Pompeii best might be. How would I like to be caught in my last moment? Maybe it would be doing something nice for someone. Maybe I could be caught brushing my granddaughter’s hair. Maybe it could be as simple as smiling. Maybe I’d be happy to freeze throughout eternity while reading the Bible. Maybe I could be holding hands with my husband of many years. A Pompeii moment seemed to just be doing something that we could be proud of throughout eternity.
I had a chance to see the person who had first introduced me to “my Pompeii best” a few days after doing my research and having some soul reflection. I said to her, “I’ve been thinking about what you said about being our Pompeii best.”
She looked at me strangely and I continued to explain where we had talked and what she had said. She paused a moment and then laughed. “I think I said, ‘I like poppies best.’ We were talking about garden flowers, weren’t we? I’ve had a cold for a couple of weeks and maybe it was hard to hear.”
“You didn’t say, ‘Pompeii best’?” I asked timidly.
“No. What does that even mean?”
I decided to keep that information to myself.