July 21, 2018

The Unclaimed Sculpture

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Residents of Doodlebug Island were recently surprised to find a new sculpture adorning the plaza, but no one appeared to understand what it was supposed to represent. Some thought it looked like granite flames emerging from a Yule log, while others said it reminded them of the rock-ribbed erosions of Bryce Canyon. Well, if what it was intended to symbolize was a mystery, the question regarding responsibility for its being there in the first place was even more so. Conjecture ran like Spring winds, touching everybody as if to accuse each one of the deed until the real artist could be singled out and made to confess. But denial followed hard in the wake of suspicion, and, in the end, the matter remained unresolved.

Emboldened by the very abnegation of ownership, townspeople began to examine the piece more closely and to comment on its merit—among those few who felt it had any—or for its lack of merit among those many more who felt it lacked anything approaching that quality. Conviction grew that ideas related to a Yule log were too benign. Flames, yes, but not the ordinary sort. No, these were the flames of Hell! Citizens christened the piece “Hellfire.”

Still, no one came forward to claim credit. Sitting atop its stone pedestal, the sculpture gleamed in the lengthening light of day, fading only when the shadows of evening seemed to gather like a shroud around it and, at last, blotted it from sight. But not from mind! People on their way to dinner or who had business in the area began avoiding the piece, going out of their way as they passed through the plaza. It began to evoke something of a superstitious dread lest it be occupied by an unkind spirit that could impart unworthy beliefs or attitudes into the hearts and minds of unmindful passersby.

But thoughts of this kind received a jolting reconsideration shortly afterward when a brass plate was found appended to the sculpture. “Sunrise” it read. But this one word had the explosive effect of causing people to view the work in an entirely new way. Now, instead of precipitating avoidance behavior, it seemed to attract attention, causing people to approach more closely and pause in their hurried affairs to ponder the inspiration of the unknown artist and to reflect on their own newly perceived reactions. Strangely, the work began to take on a beauty that appeared to grow with greater intensity as each day passed, aided, perhaps, by a series of titles that appeared as mysteriously as had the first. “Sunrise” gave way to “Hope,” which graced the work for several days before giving way to “Enlightenment” and finally to “Creation.”

Then one morning it was discovered the sculpture was gone! Pedestal, plaque, and the work itself had disappeared with the same mystery as had marked its coming. At first, townspeople were incensed that an object they had come to appreciate had been so unceremoniously taken from them and they reacted with moral indignation. Gradually, these feelings gave way to a sort of nostalgic sadness in the loss of something so quietly uplifting and finally to a lingering belief they had been part of a community catharsis that bordered on or possibly encompassed a spiritual metamorphosis, the more deeply felt because it was outside the realm of belief.

The identity of the artist has never become known and no one on Doodlebug Island has seen the sculpture since. But the happy effect is that everyone has come to believe that his or her neighbor may be responsible for the work and for the sentient titles and, of course, for the convivial feelings of compassionate sharing that marked the event. A renewed sense of kindness and generosity has swept over the Island, transcending petty differences and former loyalties. It has become the perfect reminder that even a smile or a small act of goodness can rise on butterfly wings to those celestial heights from which such behavior may be perceived as having the magnifying effect of blessing all mankind.

Nor have those feelings of mutuality subsided from among us. Perhaps it is because by common agreement citizens of this lovely Island had the words “Hope” and “Enlightenment” cast in bronze and placed on pedestals near the plaza fountain as a reminder. But it is just as likely that we saw a better side of ourselves and each other and are entirely comfortable with the sanguinary effects achieved.

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