There is an empty pedestal in the park blocks of Portland, Oregon where a statue of Teddy Roosevelt once stood. On it is inscribed: “Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider”. There used to be an equestrian statue of Teddy on it, riding erect and proud in his uniform atop a noble steed. It was torn down in 2020, during the “Indigenous day of rage” protests.
Why was it toppled? The easy answer is because it was there, and the mob needed something to destroy. Maybe it was his comments on and policies regarding natives, although the fact that “slave owner” has since been graffitied onto the pedestal calls their historical literacy into question. Maybe it was something deeper.
Beneath the inscription of Teddy’s name there is a plaque which reads:
HE WAS FOUND FAITHFUL OVER A FEW THINGS AND HE WAS MADE RULER OVER MANY. HE WAS FRAIL; HE MADE HIMSELF A TOWER OF STRENGTH. HE WAS TIMID; HE MADE HIMSELF A LION OF COURAGE. HE WAS A DREAMER; HE BECAME ONE OF THE GREAT DOERS OF ALL TIME. MEN PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM; WOMEN FOUND A CHAMPION IN HIM; KINGS STOOD IN AWE OF HIM, BUT CHILDREN MADE HIM THEIR PLAYMATE. HE BROKE A NATION’S SLUMBER WITH HIS CRY, AND IT ROSE UP. SOULS BECAME SWORDS THROUGH HIM; SWORDS BECAME SERVANTS OF GOD. HE WAS LOYAL TO HIS COUNTRY, AND HE EXACTED LOYALTY; HE LOVED MANY LANDS, BUT HE LOVED HIS OWN LAND THE BEST. HE WAS TERRIBLE IN BATTLE, BUT TENDER TO THE WEAK; JOYOUS AND TIRELES,
Who can read this and not be humbled and inspired? Who can ask more of anyone than to realize their own faults and make it their life’s work to correct and overcome them? To face life head on with courage and honor? This is a brief biography of a complex man, but nevertheless an inspiring portrait. Statuary can only be partial, a single moment of a great life made eternal.
The subject of their ire speaks volumes about those who defaced this monument. To hate that which is great, which asks, nay demands the best of you. That is the feeling of small, mean minds. Teddy on his horse soars with the triumph of the human soul, the potential to which we’re called, and which the protestors gave up on.
Anything or anyone which puts the responsibility for their station in their hands is unacceptable, because it reminds them of what they could have been but chose not to be. They exist in a culture of ‘self love’ expressed as self acceptance. Not the harsh real love that Teddy had for his men or his country, a love that demands something of you. It is self neglect, self spoiling. A child who is never told “no”.
It is too much then, to see an image of a man so proud, so noble, standing defiant against the challenges of life. For those who have surrendered hate nothing more than a reminder of their own capitulation. Why be strong when you can be weak? Why have courage when you can be timid? Why have virtue when you can have apathy? It is easy, and it is what they did. Living small lives, unworthy of remembrance. That is what they hate most of all.
That anyone should be worthy of a monument is unacceptable, because they are not. So they search and seethe for any failure (by modern standards of course), any mistake, pulling down men who dwarf them in spirit and character and say “See! See! He was not perfect!” as if this is some major revelation. To have flaws is to be human, but to do great things in spite of mere humanity makes you a hero, and heroes deserve monuments.
We should all aspire to be monumental. To live lives and do deeds worth commemoration. Life is not meant to be lived merely to “be”. We must become. Become who we can be, who we dream of being. We must strive to positively impact the world however we can, while making ourselves heroes of character and spirit.
Mean souls will always seek to tear down those of stature, but if enough remain to imitate and admire the heroes who went before, we will build new heroes worthy of new monuments.
Great souls build others up, they make others feel that they too can be great.