Today we went to the Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum. Of course I had known about the famous events of A.D. 79, when Mount Vesuvius wiped out several cities, ejecting a spume of super-heated air that killed thousands of people in their homes within the span of a second.

But it’s different when you see it as something real and physical. The familiar elements of daily life are all there: lovely frescos on living room walls, surprisingly contemporary earrings and necklaces, cups and dishes, naughty erotic sculptures, tiny details that bridge the gap of almost two millennia. The delicately colored leaves in these ancient frescos, each so exquisitely rendered, could have been painted yesterday.

It struck me for the first time how little has changed in twenty centuries. Lives are still made of the same stuff — parents and children, people working on their gardens, young lovers, busy shopkeepers and rebellious teens. Those people could have been us.

And I realized what a strange contradiction is humanity. An individual life is so fleeting, a single leaf traced upon a wall. Yet the human project itself, this repeating cycle of lifetimes, creates endless variations through the flow of passing time.

We are painting a vast fresco throughout history, not with our art but with our selves. Yes, in many ways our lives are similar. Yet each life, so unique, so precious, is a thing of exquisite and irreplaceable beauty.

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