I was talking with someone the other day and they mentioned the Liberty Bell in America. I made some remark about how when I went to see it, I was one of those wise-guy tourists who loudly says, "But it's cracked!"
When I think about it, though, that isn't my overriding memory of the Liberty Bell. There are two things I particularly remember. The first was the security, the extraordinary security designed to protect a bell. The second thing that I remember was that outside in a street lamp a squirrel had made its home! The lamp obviously no longer worked and the squirrel had brought leaves and the like into the shade in order to make a very comfortable bed. I took more photos of that squirrel in the lampshade than I did of the bell, the actual tourist attraction.
This evening, I just heard that Jurgen Moltmann said that the future is more important than the past. I have much sympathy with that position. And yet the present is more important still. The Liberty Bell is an artefact of the past - an important symbol of freedom but a symbol nonetheless. The squirrel was alive, vibrant, a part of the great web of life. Yet the people around us paid more attention to the bell than to the living, extraordinary being in front of them. You might think "But there are millions of squirrels!" To which I would reply "But there are millions of bells." "Ah," you might think, "but there's only one Liberty Bell." "True," I would reply "but each squirrel is unique, too."
I don't intend to demean the Liberty Bell by comparing it with a squirrel... obviously not! Rather, what I'm saying is that the Liberty Bell is a symbol from the past that affects the present and the future. The squirrel is alive in the present, in the here and now. Although, of course, strictly speaking it was in the past, an event many years ago, and that squirrel may no longer even be alive today. Interestingly, the bell endures, a symbol of enduring freedom, in theory, at least. Indeed, the only way I can blog about this entire event is by reflecting back into the past to try to make it alive today.
So the past is important and can be brought into the present and the future, like the Liberty Bell. It can teach us valuable lessons, such as the importance of Freedom. And yet the past is not alive and neither is the future. Only the present is alive, alive as that squirrel I saw on the same day. Life is something so extraordinary even though we so often take it for granted. It is wondrous, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Just as the Liberty Bell is a symbol, so, too, is every living being - a symbol of the glory of life, the wonder of existence and the need to never become complacent in the face of pure being. Those are the symbols that none of us can ignore.