Were they ever alive?

Amenhotep III @ British LibraryIt’s been a hectic time again, but thanks to earlier actions, at least my lists are in order!

I have also been trying to make quiet time within the busy-ness, space for thinking and recharging. One opportunity presented itself at the end of March, when I was down in London for the day for work. In addition to priceless reading time on the train “there and back again”, I noted there was a little space between the end of work and my return train departure. 

I decided to walk from Westminster to King’s Cross, passing all the famous sights along the way and getting grounded before the journey home. As I neared Bloomsbury, I realised I had a half an hour to spare. Hmmmn, what to do?

No question – half an hour sitting in Room 4 (Egyptian sculpture)!

There is something about the immensity of the statues in this gallery that calms me, reminds me of how small I am, how insignificant my lifespan is within the breadth and span of human history. It doesn’t sound like a cheery reflection, but it does put my small worries very much in perspective.

As I sat with Amenhotep III, I heard a girl ask her companion (mum, aunt, granny, sister, carer…) a key question:

“Were they ever alive?”(indicating big statues with a sweep of her very small hand).

“Yes,” came the answer, “there were once people alive who built these statues to represent their kings and important people.”

After listening to a brief overview of Egyptian history, the girl thought for a moment, and then rephrased her question, as it was clear her companion hadn’t understood the first time.

“No,” said in a tone of infinite patience, “were these [pointing at individual statues] ever alive?”

“No,” came the reply, “these are just statues.”

I looked at Amenhotep, who in turn stared down the gallery, ignoring those who had come to capture his image. Now I was raised with Ray Harryhausen movies, where statues were very likely to come to life. Perhaps this girl had also seen Night at the Museum, and could readily believe that the statues shook loose when the doors close in the evening.

I feel there is something beyond the influence of mainstream media on imaginitive folks like this girl and I. After all, these statues were created to inspire awe & worship. Like Ozymandias, they may be crumbly around the edges, their earthly rulers long gone.  They have been taken from their homeland to cold halls, but they still call their worshippers to gaze at them with cameras and phones.

I longed to ask the girl what she thought. Like me, did she think they had their own kind of life, locked in stone memory? I was too polite, or more likely, too shy to ask, and they moved away.

When my half hour was up, I walked the short distance to the train station. On my journey home, I thought more about her question and the answers. The first answer was good, it gave her all the core historical facts. The second answer left no room for discussion, no space for imagination, possibility, philosophy.

I must, I thought, make sure I leave that space in my teaching. 

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