During Holy Week 2019, as I continued to struggle with terminal brain cancer, I learned belatedly about the catastrophic fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that destroyed a significant part of the eight-century-old building and about the devastating fires in Louisiana that demolished three historically black churches.
I had disengaged from world events as I dealt with my medical condition that included daily battles with pharmaceutical, insurance companies, and billing departments. How did we ever allow healthcare to become so byzantine , so cruel, and so divorced from the human soul?
My medical teams had assiduously instructed me to avoid stress! Right? Thus, for me, a first step was to turn off the radio and television. When I finally resurfaced, starving for news like a groundhog hoping for sunshine, I found the “same ole, same ole” reporting still with a veneer of idiocy, depravity, and self-aggrandizement. The shallow repetition in the news reports was mind numbing! It made me wish for the high quality news reporting of Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid: two giants in journalism history!
Little mention of new inventions, scientific discoveries, medical advancements, emerging technologies, advances in education, tales about planetary, space, and spiritual exploration, and new developments in the arts or a few uplifting stories about the human condition – and only snippets about the planet’s overall health.
Given that I do not own a television, I receive most of my world and local news online, newscasts, old-fashioned newsprint (when available), and even neighborhood chitchat. I can’t stomach all the “buy me” propaganda on the commercial air waves. Years ago, an author and illustrator friend who resides in Upstate New York, started a local movement called, “Kill Your Television!”
Sometimes it takes me a while to catch-up with world events, but the most important topics eventually get my attention. What I did receive on my mobile on a daily basis was a barrage of annoying newsbytes about Meghan Markle, Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, and Donald Trump’s latest rant. Nothing at all about these horrible fires: Nothing! And certainly nothing about the irreparable loss of biodiversity around the planet! Thus, I turned to the BBC and Al Jazeera for alternative perspectives. Aren’t these events worth a few newsbytes to mobile customers? I guess I have to fix the settings!
Unquestionably, these churches are priceless treasures for all humankind and their resurrection is imminent – such is the resolve of the human spirit. Still I recall the observation of William Beebe, American naturalist and explorer:
“The beauty of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression can be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another Heaven and another Earth must pass before such a one can be again.”
Construction workers at the cathedral may have inadvertently started the cathedral fire – a heart-breaking loss for humanity that will likely require decades and billions of dollars to repair. The news inspired an outpouring of donations and an ambitious pledge by the French president to re-build within five years.
In Louisiana, authorities arrested and charged the arsonist, the son of a local sheriff, for hate crimes. Such indecipherable losses are another heart-breaking loss for humanity. What compels someone to inflict such misery on others? It seems a dark malignancy looms deep in the perpetrator’s soul worse than a cancer. The Louisiana tragedy rallied more than $1.8 million of donations to rebuild these brick and stone structures of solace. We all hope that sometime soon, songs of praise will resound once again across Landry Parish to guide all misaligned souls.
At first glance, the scales of difference between cathedral and parish church – in terms of their historic and spiritual values – seem hugely disproportional. However, a closer scrutiny, unveils the differences as irrelevant. Both serve to emphasize a Cross of Agony, a Path of Humiliation, and a Triumph with Resurrection. For both cases, human error struck at a holy space for renewal.
Now it’s Holy Week – a sacred time for Judaism and Christianity, two of the great Abrahamic religions that emphasize stewardship of Creation and each other as we glance into eternity. During this great moment to reflect on past, present, and future deeds, perhaps we can reorder our priorities. Are fallen American television stars, political loudmouths, and ousted British royalty really worth all the titillation?
It’s our time for penitence, humility, and gratitude, but not for their glamour.
H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D., is a forest ecologist, science-educator, and conservation scientist living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He is also the founder of Bioquest Solutions LLC, a multi-service environmental consultancy at home and abroad. You can reach Bruce by writing to: [email protected].