I just came back from a two week trip to Germany with so many images and places stuck in my mind.
This Athena bust is a Roman copy of a Greek statue from around 400 BC. Her power rushes across the room and punches me in the heart.
How could someone in a world so different from mine – with different parameters, knowledge, struggles – produce this work that strikes me so deeply? It’s evidence of a human condition universal across time and place, and I don’t even mean that in a warm and fuzzy way.
Then this torso – I am angered by the Christian vandalism, parts removed and chest carved with crosses. I write down the saying on the outside of the sister museum, “Artem non odit nisi ignarus” (only the ignorant hate art). I am disgusted by the idea of original sin and its self-hatred.
But a few days later, I am taken by the sweet smell of incense in a giant stone cathedral, floored by the melancholy organ.
We visit high-vaulted brick churches and I think how transformative it would have been to stand in the same place in 1300, to be bathed in music and mystery for the first time. Later, I learn that their construction created wastelands as nearby forests were decimated to keep the fires burning to bake bricks. It is all so complicated. In young America, it’s easy to think that it’s not.
No photo of the primitive weapons from Germany in the first century AD, but you’ve seen their kind. Surely they saw some brutal fights. Did any of my ancestors use weapons like these? Suddenly I am overwhelmed with the many lives and struggles and fragile coincidences that led to my existence, and I remind myself again (as I do every day) never to waste it.