Standing On the Ruined Shoulders of Giants

Mahler

“I do not wish to achieve immortality through my work. I wish to achieve it through not dying.” – Woody Allen

You can hardly walk around Paris without seeing the name of a famous dead ____. (Fill in the blank: writer, musician, theologian, ruler, monk) If they aren’t famous now, someone way back when felt that they were pretty important. The names etched on walls and street signs represent many disciplines and span centuries, and it would take a lifetime to understand how they all fit together to make Paris what it is today. It’s overwhelming to think about.

I was reminded of this constantly by the monuments that dominate the city. I saw more statues of Louis XIV than I knew existed. (Thank you, Versailles.) I saw the fresh flowers at Chopin’s grave. I saw plaques on walls: “So-and-so lived here.” I get that memorials are a sign of respect, but after a while, the history fatigue set in.

Don’t get me wrong, the City of Light has plenty going on today, too. In fact, there is so much going on that it’s tough to walk down the sidewalk in a straight line. But all this activity is happening on top of, and in between, and underneath, very old things.

I think people are naturally drawn to celebrity, to the comfort that comes with following a leader. But are we too focused on honoring dead people of history as individuals? I’m worried about our egos. Pride in the self is a dangerous thing. Who doesn’t imagine themselves placed on a pedestal, from time to time? I think we’re better off not worshiping ourselves, or each other…

What about you? Do you sometimes feel uneasy seeing giant statues of other humans?

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