Monthly Archives: February 2013

OF POPES AND PRIME MINISTERS

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With my post today I venture into dangerous territory. One should be very careful when approaching both religion and politics (although I already crossed that line at the time of the US elections) – especially if you care to remain friends with your readers. Yet I feel a need to throw my ten cents into the forum.

Today an event is coming to pass which has not occurred in 600 years: a reigning Pope is stepping down while still breathing. When the news came out on February 11, it made my jaw drop. This most conservative (perhaps an understatement?) Pope, Benedict XVI, was prepared to take an unprecedented step and  relinquish – seemingly voluntarily – his moral influence over millions of Catholics across the Earth.

His reasons for doing so, the Pope has been coy about, thus allowing room for all manner of speculation. This ranged from simply being too old and infirm, to not being able to cope with all the scandals currently besetting the Church. Regardless of which factor (or a combination of same) might be the real cause,  I congratulate him on the wisdom of conceding his throne to a younger man. Yes, a younger man. For as we all know, the Roman Catholic Church is NOT an equal opportunity employer. Also, images of the late Pope John Paul II, struggling to fulfil his duties as a suffering octogenarian, are a heart-rending reminder of what usually happens at the Vatican.

Whether this “younger” man – perhaps in his seventies – will possess the foresight to push through reforms of the teachings preserving the Church as an institution that has not evolved since the middle ages – this is a question that must be asked.  For everything from pedophilia, homosexuality and celibacy must be addressed. And isn’t the later a huge factor in the two former problems? And women? In an age where it’s very hard to recruit new priests (due to celibacy?), how can they keep refusing to allow women into the job?

As a young person, I was quite well versed in the Bible and I suppose that is why one thing particularly bothers me about all this:  the Bible did not command the early Christians (many women!) to found the Church as it has become. Jesus said that Peter would be the rock upon which his church should be built. No where was it written that gargantuan cathedrals were needed for the faithful to come and worship. Nor does it say that one infallible male should stand at the top, also equipped with earthly power, and gather in treasures and property all over the world. Have you ever been through the Vatican Museums? And St Peter’s? That is one helluva rock!

The question bothering me is: Is this Church relevant in our 21st century? And if it is going to continue on its previous path, how long can it survive? Obviously my opinions are, just that, my opinions. Come what may, a new Pope will be chosen and he will have a lot on his plate.

Simultaneously in Rome, another crisis is ongoing, a much weightier one. Regardless of what political beliefs you may hold, the national Italian elections have led to a completely unsatisfactory result. The idea of Beppe Grillo’s protest movement is not bad. Disillusionment with Italian politics is rampant and not new. But would taking Italy out of the Euro Zone, or even completely out of the European Union solve the existing problems? Not one bit. That would only deepen them. And now that Sg. Grillo has won 25% of the vote, his party is not prepared to actually take on any government responsibility. How realistic is that? So much is screaming to be reformed in the country, and Beppe sits on all those votes. He has completely abused democratic processes for who knows what purpose.

Where does one begain to comment on Berlusconi’s fine qualities? You’d have to have lived under a rock for the last 20 years not to know about his use of the Italian State as a self-service market. Even if he’d never held public office, his media empire alone would still be responsible for the complete dumbing-down of the Italian population.

I pray to the gods formerly in the Roman Pantheon that both Church and the Italian State soon find enlightenment and get their 21st century act together.

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In Loving Memory

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When my mother-in-law May passed away at the end of December, our family lost our matriarch, the last surviving parent between my husband and me.  At the age of 87 May’s infirmities finally caught up with her and after six months of terrible suffering she succumbed. I’m sure I’m not the first to think about the incongruity of the mercy we show our dogs and cats when they are suffering and how the same act of release is, in most countries at least, not legally granted to Homo sapiens. But when death came to her, he came not as the Grim Reaper, but as a friend who carried her away to a place from where pain is banished.

Another incongruity about death is the family reunion that often follows in its wake. In the normal course of things, it’s hard to find time to overcome the appreciable distance that separate us both physically and mentally. But for May’s send-off we gathered in a small town in Essex, England,  from points as far away as Germany and Connecticut. Even the Australian branch of the family was represented by a cousin who lives and works in London.

We celebrated May by sharing our memories about her lust for life, her love for her sons and grandchildren, and the many friends and canine companions who filled her life once her sons left to create their own. We talked a lot about Dad who’d gone before eleven years ago. We didn’t cry all that much, mainly laughed and joked about this or that incident. It was good to reunite with relatives we see so seldom, to see old friends from former incarnations of ourselves, even though we know we cannot, and probably wouldn’t want to bring back the old days.

Every day my daughter and my son unearthed more and more piles of photos and old letters that helped us reconstruct a life lived for family. So many times we wished May were still there – well, we always wished she was still there – to tell us who that person was or where or when the picture had been taken. Unfortunately, she never dated any of them.

I couldn’t get the poem out of my head that I’d written a few years back, also after a funeral, when I was helping my sister re-hang family photos after the house had been painted. Here it is:

THE PORTRAIT GALLERY

Grandma’s clock ticks.

Its pendulum measures past and future.

A hallway becomes a museum,

A passage through time.

Ancestral portraits,

Faces ancient and unknown,

Arrayed on a snow-white field

In a photographic graveyard.

Eerily familiar, those eyes, noses, chins,

Yesterday’s dour expressions,

Foretelling future faces,

Countenances sweet of sons and daughters.

Did our forebears ponder

What wall their images

Would one day grace?

Or who would inherit them?

Not-yet-wed brides?

Yet-unborn heirs?

Grandma’s clock ticks,

The pendulum apportions lifetimes.

When only fading photos remain,

Who will hang our portraits

On walls of what hue?

So why am I publishing this very personal but really quite ordinary experience to my blogosphere? Because you are friends, and as human beings, you will have had similar experiences in your own lives. You can identify with this. And as John Donne concluded so many centuries ago in his (obviously far superior) poem “No Man Is an Island”:

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

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Filed under Endings, Fiction and Other Truths, Poetry