It lies underneath your feet. Surrounds you on all four sides. Closes you in, always present. But you are not scared of it. You don’t even notice it. You live your life constantly passing it by, never giving it a second glance. It does not harm you. If anything, it protects you, yet you never thank it. You walk all over it, creating cracks in it, destroying it underneath your weight, mercilessly eroding its substance. You don’t even care.
Recall a fall. The Greats. No longer existing except within the paragraphs of our textbooks. It is asked, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” It is answered, “Created a foundation.” Classical art inspired the Renaissance, bringing forth the work of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael. Classical ideology drove democracy, ideas of progress for the people. Classical language is the heart of our lingua franca, the root of our words, spoken to create a better world. We look to the classics for the aesthetically pleasing, to find beauty in the human and the natural world. The Romans revolutionized. A foundation for art, language, beauty - we are taught this and remember this. But where would we be without the dull, gray, cold substance that cemented the glory of the Romans? Concrete built our world. The arch and the aqueduct. The Colosseum and the Pantheon. The sidewalk and the cinderblock. The edifice and the expressway.
Recall a fall. Face down on the concrete. When you tripped, the force of your tumble could have broken bones, shattered ribs, torn flesh. Yet the concrete remains there, unchanged and unmoving, mocking you for being so fragile. But what would you do without it? The concrete built your home. It built the sidewalk that will lead you back there. It built the pipes that quench your thirst. It built the archways, the pathways, the stairways. You remain on the gray ground, spread your fingers across its surface. Cold and hard. Breathing in, you are reminded that you are alive. You recall the greatness of the Romans, how they once fell.
Recall a fall. It hurts, but there’s no blood. A fall from grace. You sit in a concrete stairwell. Alone. As you rest your head against the wall, you remember the cinderblocks that enclosed your high school. You reminisce about the facts you learned then, recalling that this substance you lean against is the very substance that proclaimed the victory of Titus, the grandeur of Flavian. Your sadness will die, as will you. But the concrete will hardly feel the blow of one hundred years passing by. No matter how many bridges you burn, the concrete overpasses stand tall. No matter how many times you damn yourself, the concrete dams hold back the river. You are not healed, but the concrete walls around you and the concrete stairs beneath you insist that the world will go on another day.Recall a rise. Look up, around you, beneath you. The doorway you pass through. The water you drink. The floor your feet walk upon. These are not abstract ideas. They are concrete victories. The rise of a groundwork, a literal foundation. Civilization, architecture, art, construction - the whole world as we know it- depend upon it. Its strength surpasses the death of man. Its simplicity astounds. The dull gray surrounds us and gives us life.