We have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are “nothing but.” . . . Everything is banal; everything is “nothing but,” and that is the reason why people are neurotic. They are simply sick of the whole thing, sick of that banal life, and therefore they want sensation. They even want a war; they all want a war; they are all glad when there is a war; they say, “Thank heaven, now something is going to happen – something bigger than ourselves!”
— Carl Jung
For those of us living in the capital city of the United States, it has been a week of great things: an unexpected earthquake, the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the national mall, and now Hurricane Irene which caused the cancellation of events for the dedication of the MLK, Jr. Memorial but is yet to play out its true nature in our area. One can tell by the lines in the groceries stores that we’re pretty much indoors through most of the weekend.
I was one of those sideline critics of the King memorial re how best to use millions of dollars raised impressively quickly from many sources, monies that could build foundations, improve schools, health programs and all that King envisioned for the beloved community. I was even a critic of the choice of artist (not made in the U.S.A.) and what appeared to be a “Walmart” effort to create a legacy for donors. Once the memorial was in place, it was time to deal with the physical reality. The power of the King memorial as symbol. How could I forget my Carl Jung and ignore the human hunger for signs and symbols? For many that came Tuesday on the day of the earthquake. It shook the biggest, baddest, most fearless human begins to their core. The idea of not knowing, of not being in charge or control of your own or anyone else’s being and destiny may have been the most unsettling. The scientific answers meshed with the metaphysical ones.
It appears we are all “symbol-tons.”
On the National Mall, the Washington Monument which was completed in 1884 and is one of the city’s most defining landmark symbols, suffered substantial cracks near the very top of the obelisk structure. The Washington National Cathedral (The Cathedral of St. Paul and St. Peter) suffered substantial damage to its English Gothic revival landmark. Much of the stonework was carved by hand starting in 1907 and finally competed in 1990. Millions of dollars in private donations will have to be raised to make repairs. For now, both landmarks are closed to the public.
But the MLK, Jr. memorial (the new kid on the block), a project initiated by Dr. King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, still stands tall, not a crack, no shifting, no leaning. After all, no Alpha man lowers his head to the ground. I’ve warmed up to the monument and the sculptor who realized the design, Lei Yixin, who has suffered through the criticism of persons louder than myself. To be honest, how many sculptors do we have in the U.S. who can carve into hard rock or another Mount Rushmore? How many opportunities are there to do so? Lei has had a lot of practice including carving statues of Mao Zedong in his native China. Personally I had no problem with his resume. Anyone who’s created propaganda art including Leonardo da Vinci and all the artists for the National Mall memorials knows it’s all about immortalizing humans into symbols.
The Reverend Pat Robertson is a symbol-ton. For him the crack in the Washington Monument signaled the 2nd coming. “It seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power. It has been the symbol of our great nation. We look at the symbol and we say ‘this is one nation under God.’ Now there’s a crack in it … Is that a sign from the Lord? … You judge. It seems to me symbolic.”
Funny, the symbol of power cracks. The symbol of non-violence and peace stands tall and strong.
Tonight the MLK, Jr. memorial must weather the literal storm. If nothing else, I respect and am intrigued by the symbolism of the memorial in the wake of Hurricane Irene. I can’t help but think of the words of one of Dr. King’s favorite gospel songs, “Precious Lord,” in Mahalia Jackson voice — “Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.” (Mahalia Jackson sang “Precious Lord” at Dr. King’s funeral in 1968.) What is our relationship with metaphor?
Hopefully, the memorial will be for the Alphas, donors, and all who contributed $$$ to its realization a symbol of an accomplishment that will inspire them and others to put those energies into the vision for humanity Dr. King saw from the mountain top.