This has been a summer of discovery for me. Civil War stories I’d never heard before; Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, the African American woman, born August 26, 1918, who is credited with calculating the trajectories for Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. I read about Edward Snowden traveling around the world – including many a gig in the US – embodied in a robot. He is debating, lecturing; and the “he” here is virtual, inciting many a visceral response to his incarnation as “Snowbot”. I had no idea until I read about it this summer.
More recently, I learned something of the history of Michelangelo’s David. The article in the NY Times Magazine confronts us (again) with the reality of American ignorance (a gross generalization on my part). “…The most famous statue in the world, and they just leave it outside!” one tourist from Arizona was heard to say with contempt in his tone. The real David was moved 143 years ago for its own protection.
The line in the article that really caught my attention is the ironic image of children throwing rocks at the 17-foot high giant – an interesting twist in the myth of the boy David and his encounter with Goliath – as it was moved from where it had been carved to where it would stand. The “perfect man” hidden in a piece of marble flawed from its first cut in the quarry, compromised by the ravages of time, having sat for over 30 years before Michelangelo’s chisel ever touched it, a lifeless block stowed away in a corner of Florence’s City Square.
Once completed, as the statue made the four-day journey to the Piazza della Signoria, guards had to be stationed to protect David from rock-throwing youth. The best response I can think of is “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” I’m just trying to imagine taking a rock in hand, ready to toss it with intent to harm David. Here is the image of one who, with some sleek stones, took down the mighty and feared enemy of Israel. What goes around comes around.
Earthquakes, birds relieving themselves with no thought for what lie beneath them, and riots. There were the riots of 1527 when a mob tried to storm Florence’s City Hall. Things were getting thrown around, and that’s when a bench took flight and broke David’s right arm. No matter what was thrown at it, unlike the David of the Bible, the statue never threw anything back. Though committed to protecting the king who tried to kill him, David was not above ripping off your foreskin; and because of the bloodshed he was responsible for, God simply could not stomach the thought that such a one would build the Temple of the Lord. But the statue – standing over the centuries, weak in the ankles, has long been unwilling to throw anything back at life except its exquisite beauty. Look at the hand pictured above, and remind yourself that this is marble! The veins can almost be seen to be pulsating with blood running through them.
While I acknowledge the sacrifice of those who have died for us, there is always that dark underbelly of having to be willing to kill for us. One reality elevates a person to the status of “hero”; the other reduces us to something frighteningly less than human. We are all too adept at teaching our young to throw stones, and teaching those not much older to retaliate.
My hands – and yours – are works of art capable of offering a loving caress. Once I held a baby not more than two pounds in my hand, my fingers quivering under the almost weightless miracle of life. Michelangelo gave us a 25,000 pound piece of marble which stands almost weightless in its life-like and intricate detail. Who would ever want to throw rocks at such a thing?
With sling in hand, is the David made of marble depicted just before the deed, or just after? Certainly I am projecting here … but as I look at the face, there seems to be a sadness in the expression. If the deed is a fait acompli, there is no indication of arrogant victory. If the sling is yet to be employed, there is no sense of joy in what must be done.
I am at a point in life where I just can’t imagine anyone throwing rocks at this statue. And I become more convinced as time goes by that if we don’t stop the figurative and literal rock throwing, that marble face of the David might begin to weep.