I have been moved by many words in literature. I
have been moved by “everything illuminated” as well as things
“extremely loud and incredibly close.” I have been called to a “great
rucksack revolution” by the same man who told me “love is a duel,”
something I have never stopped believing. Once, a young woman named Sylvia whispered to me,
“The world is but a bad dream,” so I wondered for days how to wake from it.
Just as Sylvia and Kerouac and Jonathan Safran Foer, Ayn Rand once moved me as well.
When I first read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, I ran the name John Galt
over and over in my mind. You might say I savored it with a wine connoisseur’s palate,
feeling out each corner of the name and trying to imagine how Ayn Rand conceived of the man behind
it. I envisioned her sitting with a notebook and the words “John Galt” written
on an otherwise blank page. She must have stared at the name, wondering where it came from and
asking herself, “Who is John Galt?” And so, with that first line, Atlas
Shrugged was born - all 1,084 pages of it.
I was only a few hundred pages in
when my plane began its descent to Charles de Gaulle Airport. As I watched the French landscape
rise to greet me, the woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “Who is John
Galt?” At this time, I had only 300 pages of not knowing the answer to offer her. Not
only did she speak to me in a rich French accent, but she possessed the secret that would keep me
restless for another 700 pages.
It took only a few days to settle into Paris.
It took only two weeks to find John Galt. I read voraciously. The Métro traveled from
the Cluny to the Louvre and I would read for those precious seven minutes. I read at the fountains
near the Pompidou Centre, where I believe a part of my soul is still hidden behind an abstract
painting ... but that is a story for another time. I sat in Rodin’s Garden and tried to
look like a beautiful intellectual, which worked until I leaned against my bag and ruptured my
bottle of orange juice. I shouted to the streets outside and below my hotel room, “Who is
John Galt?” but I was lost in translation and the noise of my city. An elderly Italian
man across the narrow street from my room yelled back, “Buon giorno!” and I
wondered if I were so lost in translation after all as I called back,
“Bonjour!” One might say that John Galt was my Paris tour guide.
Finally, while sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens, I found John Galt. He was
tall and gaunt in my head. Perhaps attractive would be an inappropriate word but he certainly could
never be missed - much like the Montparnasse Tower that somewhat blights the view of the Gardens. I
decided that John Galt was in every face I had seen in Paris. In France. In all my life. If John
Galt represents the motor of the world, then traces of him can be found in every person I have ever
encountered because they are all part of the schematics that Rand loved so dearly.
More than that, with John Galt as my guide, I had spent two weeks breathing in
man’s achievement in art, architecture, and chocolate banana crepes. I spent a full 20
minutes admiring the way man had taken steel and rivets and fashioned them to be as elegant as
lace. Have you noticed that about the Eiffel Tower? You can never tell from pictures, just as you
can never fathom the magnitude of the Arc de Triomphe until you have stood beneath it and gazed up.
I took John Galt to see the Foucault Pendulum and silently congratulated man on
finding the motion of the Earth’s rudder. It was in these moments, in the moments of
appreciation for man and man’s achievement, that I found the answer to Ayn
Rand’s eternal question: “For neither do men live nor die in vain” (
H. G. Wells).
Maybe it was the café culture, the countless museums or
parks or sidewalk painters that made me appreciate the singularity of man and his achievements. Or,
perhaps, it was John Galt clutched in my hand while floating down the Seine toward a sparkling
tower of graceful steel. Certainly, 1,084 pages later, steel rivets and swinging pendulums seemed
equal in majesty to marble statues and canvas portraits. Not only have I now found John Galt, I
have also acquired a Randian appreciation for all things that man has been and all things that man
has yet to become.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the February 2007 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.