Yesterday, I took three kids to see the “A Day in Pompeii” exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. They were boys (two nine year olds and one four year old) who are fascinated by natural disasters like volcanoes. All three of them have watched the Star Wars movies, the scary scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc, and they play video games they probably should not play.
I did not think twice before taking them through the Pompeii exhibit. That was a mistake that I paid for last night.
The exhibit is beautiful and dramatic. It is almost too good. It provides visitors with a view of what life was like in Pompeii, using frescoes, kitchen artifacts, a cool gladiator helmet and more. But just as the exit sign comes into view, you have the opportunity to view a film about the city’s final hours.
My four year old sat on my lap. I should have left when I felt his temperature rise and he leaned his warm cheek against mine. My nine year old son’s friend sat next to me. I should have left when he stopped wiggling in his seat, or when he turned to me and whispered, “This is really well-done.”
But I didn’t.
After watching the volcanic ash cover the city in tidal wave-like clouds of black, we stood up a bit subdued. And then in the short distance between the movie and the exit sign, we passed through multiple casts of those who did not get away: two young women holding on to each other, a dog whose owners left it chained in the yard when they fled, a prisoner or slave with shackles on his feet who almost made it out the city gates.
“That’s really sad,” my nine year old said.
But they seemed to forget it, and had fun running through another exhibit that they’ve been through a hundred times before.
Then in the car on the way home, the friend asked, “Except for Hawaii, there aren’t any volcanoes in the U.S., right?”
And when we got home, my four year old stopped playing with his brothers and found me to say, “Remember that city we learned about? That was sad.” Then he ran back to their play.
Then at midnight, my nine year old told me for the first time that he couldn’t sleep. He still had not slept at 2:30. At 4:00, he told me he couldn’t stop thinking about Pompeii. I took him back to his room and sat with him until he fell asleep. I think it was almost 4:30 a.m.
Real life makes an impact… even on kids who battle monsters and bad guys on video games and can slice a light-saber like a Jedi Knight. Real life can still keep them up at night. I need to remember that, so that I do not find myself sitting on the edge of my son’s bed, holding his hand and waiting for his eyes to close just as the sun comes up.
Nearly 2,000 years later, the lesson of Pompeii remains…know when to get up and leave.