800-odd years of history being destroyed by fire was sad. I described it in a previous post as 'utterly heartbreaking', which it probably didn't deserve, in retrospect. What was sad about the fire that damaged Notre-Dame was the fact that the world is just that little bit less rich than it was before, that humanity's size is somehow diminished as parts of its history are lost. It sounds as though the cathedral will be restored over the coming years to something approaching its true glory, which is a positive note to an otherwise unhappy story. But the cathedral church lives on in a sort of collective memory; those of us who have experienced it at first-hand share that experience, and whilst there is a difference, with the sorts of things modern technology is capable of, that experience can be closely recreated without ever being physically there. So, the loss is real, although less than seemed at first to be threatened. As you may note from the photos 'gracing' this website, I am partial to a ruin, although I would love to have seen Whitby Abbey at its peak, before even the time of my stories.
The news that upwards of 200 people have been killed in Sri Lanka in a series of attacks on churches and hotels is of a different type, and does deserve to be called utterly heartbreaking. The victims of these attacks were not combatants, and indeed in some cases they were worshippers. The parallel to the mosque attacks in New Zealand is fairly clear, in that a person or a group has planned to pick on a particular category of worshipper and cause as much death and damage as possible. Occasionally, I get angry, disappointed or sad, but I have not got a sense of what sort of illness of mind must obtain for that anger to come out in this kind of calculated way. There is a part of me that can understand the sort of anger that leads to the red mist that seems to underlie some instances of violent crime, even if I can't imagine actually committing those crimes. It's the main reason behind the extensive treatment of Edward Strelley's disappointment and anger about his frustrated love for Elizabeth. Strelley most certainly does imagine those crimes, and I leave it to the reader to find out by reading book IV whether he in fact commits them.
I do not pretend to be able to write words of any real power or significance in response to a horrific series of crimes leaving over two hundred people dead and more than twice that many injured. Equally, I do not claim that my work in writing These Matters is somehow capable of explaining or giving insight into those crimes. But in writing the books, I have thought out - 'experienced' might be the right word, I'm not sure - that same anger and frustration that Strelley feels, and in him I can feel how it might channel itself into violence. Insight is not the same as justification, though. The people who committed the crimes in Sri Lanka have, perhaps, been failed by life, but that does not exonerate them. Their anger may have been justified, but their actions were not. What punishment ought to await them? I do not know, and I'm not sure it's of any value to speculate. It's a terrible question to answer if your maxim is 'be kind, regardless of the provocation'.
It's impossible to quantify what goes into making a person who they are. It's almost trivial to say that it's a combination of heritage, upbringing, experiences managed and accidental, friends, teachers, family, relationships, everything that happens to someone might matter. But to pick out the things that will matter is beyond calculation, as any parent will attest. Things that seemed to matter at the time might have no lasting effect, whereas things that seemed irrelevant can be life-changing. The biggest thing for a parent, or indeed anyone trying to be a good influence on another person, is to act, not just to speak, in the right way. Sometimes, I manage to embody this, as when I picked up a lad who had done his best to hospitalise himself on the skate park this afternoon. He didn't, but it was definitely worth checking. Sometimes, I don't meet my own standards. And those are the things that go through my mind when I write about the sacrament of confession, because there's a bit of me that would like to be able to unload those failings on to a Priest and have God forgive me for them. Instead, I end up thinking of Keith Richards saying 'It's not just about living forever, Jackie. The trick is living with yourself forever.' Is there a message in any of this meandering? I suppose, that in addition to the core maxim of both Bill and Ted and Christianity (and pretty much all of the religions about which I might comment), 'be excellent to each other,' one ought to add: 'be excellent to yourself'. Only with both can anyone be at ease in the world. I thought about writing 'only with both can anyone be happy', but perhaps 'happy' is asking too much. It's easy to dismiss middle-class white folk who say 'Peace!' as a greeting or farewell, but perhaps it ought to be what we say to each other.
So: peace be with you, whatever life you lead, and whatever your beliefs.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought