Somewhere along the way, most of us have probably been told by a teacher or parent that there is no such thing as a Statue of Limitations: It’s StaCHEWT, not StaCHEW!
OK, OK, we’ve learned it, we’ve learned it. However, it appears that, now, there is at least a Limitation of Statues (that’s StaCHEWS, not StaCHEWTS)!
What else would account for Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson losing their heads; Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson eating dirt; and George Washington and Christopher Columbus biting the dust?
With time, the metal or stone remains of all those statues will have been carried off, the surrounding grass re-seeded, the graffiti rubbed or sand-blasted off the only remaining vestige — the pedestal.
But what shall become of the pedestal itself?
Without a statue to surmount it, what use does a pedestal have? What purpose does it serve? Should it, too, be removed as punishment for having borne upon its back the malefactors who, finally, have been thrown onto the junk-heap of history?
That might be cruel and unusual punishment. Consider: the pedestal had no choice but to bear its burden. It sat as mute when its master was revered as when reviled.
Unlike us, it did not repudiate hastily a view once held, however firmly. It didn’t have to. It didn’t have a view (except perhaps over an expanse of green).
If we seek forgiveness, should we not offer it the same?
But, if so, what exactly should we do with it and its numerous kin, now barren and bereft?
Our first impulse might be to have it, now, bear the statue of one who is honored, especially her or him whose suffering or death has prompted us to change our views and right our wrongs.
But these sites are imbued now with anger and violence. Other sites can be created, free of painful associations, that honor new heroes.
An empty pedestal might then offer a new beginning, liberated to represent others who have earned our respect in different ways (subject to appropriate background checks).
We might start by honoring the medical professionals and first responders who have put their lives on the line for victims of Covid-19. Doing so would acknowledge the devotion and courage of a corps that represents almost every conceivable national origin, ethnicity, race, creed, sex, gender-identity, or political persuasion, and offers its services without concern for any of these categories.
We might, then, also consider our teachers and school counselors and coaches; our ministers and priests and lay-persons; our scouting leaders; perhaps even our police.
Then there are the actors and entertainers who made us laugh or cry; journalists who enlightened us; workers who make our cars and trains.
Of course, we would have to tread very carefully so as not to inadvertently honor someone demonstrably unworthy. It might be wisest not to represent a particular, identifiable person, lest he or she should later prove to have committed an act now considered immoral or unacceptable, or to have held a view now regarded as repugnant.
Even in the generalized representation we may choose, we should make sure that the nurse is wearing a mask; the teacher is not looking stern; the hands of the scout leader or priest are fully visible and not otherwise engaged; the police officer is not holding a weapon (advisable would be a pose showing him smilingly helping a youngster across the street; and he should not look identifiably Irish, which is an unacceptable stereotype).
Finally, on the question of materials with which to fashion our new heroines and heroes. We should not, of course, use the melted-down remnant of now-discredited statues. If these are to be refashioned, let them be as sewer grates or prison bars.
Best would be to use plastic, which is durable but also light-weight and thus relatively easy to pull down when the need arises, with minimal threat of bodily harm. Plastic is also easily reshaped into new forms that embody new, more acceptable, ideals. A teacher could, for example, become a computer, or a police officer, a robot.
Whatever happens, the pedestal will remain mute, sensibly avoiding comment about the values it now bears.