Metaphors: Triumphant Arch

 Triumphant Arch



You may know that a triumphant arch (a.k.a. triumphal arch) is a type of monument found in ancient Rome. It was not an entry way into a city or any place else. It simply stood in a visible location and usually served as a reminder of a military victory; great victories inspired great arches. In modern times, new arches have been built for special occasions and this is not the place to list them all. What is important here is that such arches are very real things, but their purpose is mostly symbolic.

I enjoy drawing things, and when I decided to draw Twelve Metaphors I found in the Big Book of AA, I thought the triumphal arch would be the easiest one to depict. After all, there are hundreds of existing photos and images of triumphant arches from locations all over the word. I could just pick any one of them as inspiration, right?


If you read through the Big Book description of the Triumphant Arch, there are only a few specific details. The book describes a structure with one arch, capped by a keystone. But that description does not fit most triumphant arches. (I suggest you research this point for yourself.) Most triumphant arches I found have multiple arches; one prominent central arch, flanked by at least two smaller arches (below). Since arches typically require a keystone, a three-arch monument would have THREE keystones. 

But the Big Book describes only a single arch. Am I nitpicking? Read further.

Bill Wilson, writer of the Big Book, used the triumphant arch to make an incredibly important point, declaring that our Higher Power is the keystone to our spiritual arch of recovery. One arch, one keystone, one God. Period!

I searched hundreds of images of triumphant arches and found only one ancient arch that had a single arch and single keystone: the Arch of Titus (below). Built in the first century in Rome, that arch was certainly majestic and massive enough to inspire a Twelve Step Metaphor. The problem was, Bill was writing primarily for a American audience...not a group of architectural historians. Why would Bill choose an arch that very few readers would be familiar with? I couldn't answer that question, but I had found an accurate model.

Photograph of the ancient Arch of Titus

With my amateur research completed, I was ready to begin a drawing inspired by the Arch of Titus. Something still bothered me, but I had no other choice. On the day I started sketching the arch, I was sitting in a crowded office, waiting to go home (it was a slow day). My gaze wandered several desks away to where a coworker was showing her friend a thick stack of vacation photographs. Up popped a snapshot of a perfect white triumphant monument with only a single arch! The pure coincidence was stunning.

I wasn't sure what to say. I abruptly interrupted the pair and asked the startled women where the photograph was taken. "Washington Square in New York City," the older lady replied, "Last week when I visited my daughter." I stammered something like, "M-m-may I look more closely at it?" Slightly alarmed, she slid the color print towards me. As if hoping to get rid of me, she added, "You keep it, dear. I have other copies." I hope I remembered to thank her!

I couldn't believe my luck. Washington Square Park Arch is one of New York's most familiar landmarks. It exactly matches Bill's description of a Triumphant Arch. It is less grand than the Arch of Titus  but it is familiar to far more people. Unlike most other such structures, it has only one arch—and one keystone.

Photograph of Washington Square Arch

My earlier hesitations vanished. I drew the arch much as it appeared in that photograph, but I simplified it to suggest the twelve-stone construction that Bill Wilson described. After it was finished, I told and retold the story about randomly seeing the photograph at exactly the moment I needed it. Others were not as impressed as I was, but the pure coincidence continues to amaze me today.

Is it pure coincidence that Bill's description matches the arch in New York City? Perhaps not.

Bill Wilson got sober while attending Oxford Group meetings in New York City. The Oxford Group met approximately one mile from Washington Square. The square's magnificent arch stands very close to the street. While one mile is a great distance in Manhattan, Bill and his wife Lois reportedly took pleasure walks measuring dozen of miles. Bill could easily have passed Washington Square on his way to or from Oxford Group meetings. 

Whether he knew it or not, Bill chose a triumphant arch which readers could find either in the agelessness of ancient Rome or in the bustling center of New York City. I can't speak for the rest of his audience, but Bill's description was very easy for me to picture. I owe my thanks to Bill Wilson for his choice of metaphors. And for a generous lady at work for sharing a vacation photos with me.


TRIVIA: I am often asked where the all-important keystone is in my drawing. I numbered the stones to help the viewer understand my meaning, but there is no number twelve visible. Some expect the keystone to be the highest stone in the entire triumphant structure. But by definition, a keystone is located at the top of the rounded OPENING of the arch. Additional stones typically do rest above it. Traditionally, the keystone is made larger than the other stones because that it is widely believed to give the entire arch greater strength. Because Bill described his keystone as being Divine in nature, I showed it hidden in a burst of blindingly radiant sunlight. I left off the numeral XII out of respect for the Divine power that continues to fill me with hope and help daily.

(BTW: An engineering professor recently challenged the age-old belief that an enlarged keystone is necessary give to a structural arch its strength. Through whatever computer or construction models, he and his students determined that the keystone does not necessarily play a crucial role. They scientifically proved that every archstone is equally important. That makes sense to me. My Higher Power has illuminated every Step of my recovery, not just the Twelfth Step. The keystone retains its majestic presence, but to paraphrase Bill W., Divinity is everywhere or nowhere at all.)






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