Visit any small town, nestled out in the middle of nowhere and you can be assured that they have a city park. Usually the oasis has been dedicated to the young men who left the hamlet decades ago to serve in a war on distant shores. There are the well-tended gardens of pristine flowers lined up in troop-like rows, perhaps the vintage cannon from WWI, and invariably at least one stone or metal statue that towers over the park.
The statue was not necessarily erected to commemorate to soldiers who lost the innocence of youth in Europe or on the Pacific Islands. Sometimes we are presented with the image of a town founder, a civic leader, or an anonymous figure who represents the town’s heritage. I have even witnessed statues dedicated to animals who served the populace with dignity. There are the mining towns with their statues of burros or the coastal burghs with images of birds carved into stone. Regardless of the topic or person, each of these statues serves as a point of pride and honor.
Mankind has always felt a need to create monuments. To this day we stand in awe before the pyramids of Egypt, wonder at mysteries of Stonehenge, and marvel that Machu Picchu still stands in eerie silence! Perhaps our need to build monuments pays testament to the fact that we are all too well aware of our own mortality. A monolith is created to commemorate events and personages; but more importantly, it is placed on its foundation to endure time. It is a simple way for each of us to proclaim a certain degree of immortality, to share with generations to come!
In the coming week, a new statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be dedicated in Washington, D.C. It will share space with a variety of other monuments along the National Mall. I am confident that a new generation of visitors will draw inspiration merely from its presence. Setting aside this one example, it seems that we have failed our forefathers in the art of honoring our heroes and preserving their memories in stone. for all to share sometime in the distant future.
Whether finding myself in some quaint mountain town or walking the civic parks of state capitols, I struggle with the fact that the statues I come across are well over seventy years old. In fact, the same holds true in many of the world’s greatest and most historical cities. Have we lost our heritage of stone carvers and metal sculptors? Has that craft simply fallen by the wayside? Are we out of heroes to honor? Is there nobody left who has performed noble deeds worthy of remembrance and eternal posterity? Or have we simply elected to not recognize the words and acts of the selfless and good?
We have become a society of instant gratification. Within seconds we can share the fact that our dog learned a new trick across social networks of people who we have never even met, but who have “friended” us. We can post videos of ourselves balancing three kernels of popcorn on the tip of our nose and within days receive a hundred thousand “views.” We do not need to be bothered with personal interaction. With a few clicks of the mouse we can go grocery shopping, order a new movie, download a book, and let the universe know that our status is “bored.” Who needs the hassle of dealing with people at the store, theater, library, or anywhere else?
In order to have a statue erected in your honor, there needs to be some level of significance to your life. You must do something important or beneficial to others. The masses have to recognize that you are extraordinary and that your words and deeds deserve to be preserved into the future. But for any of that to transpire, you must first interact with those who you will benefit; the ones who will bring you recognition.
None of this will come to fruition behind a computer screen. If that were the case, the best you could hope for is that your statue would be distributed around the world as a screen saver! You would become immortal via an email entitled “Forward to Ten People You Know in the Next Ten Minutes!”
Statues honor humanity and the best in each of us. The best in each of us can only be found when we interact with others in person. A hug, a few kind words, even just a quick smile; that is how we inspire one another. So, will you be building your statue today? You can count on me to go out and visit it!