Some two years ago, I watched a video of some men taking sledgehammers to statues built by workers who were dust and forgotten millennia ago. My first thought: These people need to be stopped. My second thought: These souless people need to be put down lest they destroy anything else. And my third thought: Why am I getting worked up over some statues and tablets when people are being slaughtered? Good point. Of course, I have been getting incensed at the executions, the torture, all the brutality done in the name of some version of God or another. So then I ask myself how one hold the loss of an artifact and the loss of a human life as in any way equal in tragic value.
Here is what I came to. Each unique human life is of immense importance so long as it continues. Life is finite, and when it ends, it’s gone. Some lives leave a legacy. This may be found in children, friends, or students that the person affected during life. When a person has gone beyond memory, there are physical objects – objects of art, things crafted – a book, a bridge, a violin, a vase, a map – these are relics of legacy. Time first steals our memory, then works to destroy other legacies. Libraries burn; buildings decay or are torn down; moth and rust and misfortune tear away the heirlooms of the dead –the inheritance of the future. Age and rarity makes these relics more valuable. A paperback may be so worthless as to end up in the free book bin after one read. But what is the worth of the first run of Walden? Or a book printed by Gutenberg? Or an Anglo-Saxon letters scribbled on a scrap of velum? Or lead sheets with Roman lettering, or Demotic on papyrus, or cuneiform on accidently-baked clay? What about paintings on a cave wall?
Such things, the legacies of the forgotten generations, are truly humanity’s heirlooms, and as valuable in their way as the more direct and tangible wealth of today – land, water, and so on. Both the present lives and those legacies of past lives must be defended from those who see the value in neither.
Images from Wikipedia Commons