Atlas shrugged? 2017’s mean season

Lee Lawrie’s Atlas shoulders the celestial spheres outside Rockefeller Center

Lee Lawrie’s Atlas shoulders the celestial spheres outside Rockefeller Center

My contractor and friend gave me a telling gift for Christmas – a Veronese bronze of the Greek Titan Atlas.

He brings a mature, Herculean masculinity to a collection that includes several younger Apollos, Davids and St. Michaels, along with, of course, many Alexanders. But beyond that Atlas’ burden is both illustrative of and instructive for our time.

After the Titans lost their battle with the Olympians, sky/chief god Zeus condemned Atlas to hold up the sky at the western edge of the Earth, so sky and Earth could not resume their amorous relationship. In ancient times, Atlas was depicted shouldering the celestial spheres, a tradition upheld in Lee Lawrie’s colossal bronze at Rockefeller Center.

But many other interpreters portray Atlas holding up the Earth. (My Atlas has an Earth whose Northern Hemisphere comes off, revealing a dish-like Southern Hemisphere. I think I’ll give him some Mini Snickers to bear.)

We can be forgiven, I think, for feeling like Atlas these days. Baby New Year has barely cut a tooth and we already have mass murder in Fort Lauderdale and a particularly cruel crime in the Chicago four who tortured a disabled man. As usual, those who would be powerful (or at least stave off their own weakness) prey on others.

In the case of the Fort Lauderdale gunman, Esteban Santiago, there may be mitigating circumstances – the Iraq War, mental illness. All the more reason to do greater due diligence, particularly where weapons are concerned.

But it’s not just the headlines. Talk to people in the work force and there is a new sense that everyone is in it just for himself. Another friend says the digital age is to blame, creating a faux intimacy on the net but throwing up an iDevice or two or more among us in everyday life.

The digital age has plenty to answer for. So, too, has the vacuum of leadership. No great team is ever rudderless – a subject I explore in my forthcoming novel, “The Penalty for Holding,” about a gay, biracial quarterback’s search for identity and love in the NFL.

Love is the answer. But how to show love in an often loveless world?

It takes guts. It takes imagination.

It takes a transcendent willingness to shoulder our particular burdens.


Tags: Atlas, Veronese Collection, Lee Lawrie, Rockefeller Center, Mini Snickers, Fort Lauderdale shooting. Chicago torture of disabled man, Apollo, David, St. Michael, Alexander, classical statuary,