The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

One Thing After Another

Today, for the first time in a several weeks, I stepped away from all the things that seem to monopolize my time, and just sat down to read and relax. I thought about turning on the television to catch up on the world news, but then decided against it. Indeed, reading has always relaxed me, while watching television seems to have the opposite effect. For example, early each day, after my morning walk around our neighborhood, I sit down with the newspaper and my first cup of coffee. Interestingly, reading the paper, even on those days when it's filled with bad news, rarely upsets me. Oh, I'll occasionally shake my head at the general stupidity of humanity, but that's about it. Watching the news on TV, however, often generates an entirely different and far more lively response.

I don't believe the human psyche was designed to accept the constant barrage of information of the sort originating from the all-news cable channels. Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and whatever other news networks are out there, all fire a steady stream of bullet-like news items -- some newsworthy, most not -- at their targets, and that's you and me. Like the body of a soldier being hit repeatedly by withering machine-gun fire, our minds are unable to absorb the shock of all this information. Like those bullets, every story seems to carry equal weight. None is perceived to be more important than another, for each gets an allotted 10 or 20 or 30 seconds of air time: a man is executed in Florida; another is convicted of fraud in Texas; the president decides homosexual marriage is fine and dandy; the Iranians crank up another bunch of nuclear centrifuges; Egyptians Christians are murdered outside the doors of their church; newly elected Greeks fail to form a coalition government; a socialist government takes the reins in France; the Hollywood "elites" cough up millions for the president's reelection; the new, improved maniac in charge of North Korea threatens to destroy us; a 40-pound house cat dies; and on and on... Not only does all of this come at us rapid-fire, but there's never a ceasefire. It doesn't stop. The same stories are aired repeatedly for a day or two while new or revised stories are added to the mix. What's the average citizen to make of it all?

And so I pick up a book instead, or a magazine, or a newspaper, or even my iPad. In each instance I can at least partially control the source of the news and its depth of coverage. And because I can fully control the rate at which I receive this information, I can actually take some time to think about it and weigh its meaning. And these days I can even do a little fact-checking on my own.

David Bentley Hart
The first thing I read today was the June/July issue of First Things, which arrived in yesterday's mail. And the first thing I turned to in First Things was David Bentley Hart's monthly essay, "The Back Page." This month Dr. Hart addressed the subject of human death in his essay, "Death the Stranger." He wrote of death not as something natural but as something unnatural, as something that breaks unannounced into our humanity and interrupts "a story that might otherwise have continued to unfold." He makes a point of separating human death from the surrounding natural cycle of birth and death, a separation founded on our unique rationality, on the fact that unlike other creatures we are able to reflect on such matters as life and death. In his words, "Our consciousness of death constitutes an absolute alienation from the rest of the natural world." It's really quite a wonderful and profound essay. I recommend it, and suspect it will be available online in a few days; otherwise, subscribe to First Things. It's a great journal.

Thomas Howard
While reading Dr. Hart's essay, I couldn't help but recall an article published in last month's issue of First Things. Entitled "Two Deaths", it was written by Thomas Howard, a man whom I met on a few occasions and whose books and other writings I have enjoyed immensely over the years. A far more personal essay than Dr. Hart's, it addresses the execution of a friend, a death-row pen pal with whom Dr. Howard had regularly corresponded for 10 years. He then juxtaposed this one man's death with the recent death of another, Archduke Otto, the heir to the long-gone Hapsburg throne. It too is a beautiful essay, one of those brief pieces that leads your mind to think of many other things.

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Ireland, I've also been reading Joseph Pearce's fascinating biography of Oscar Wilde, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. In fact, I just finished it this afternoon. If you haven't read it, do so. It certainly changed my view of this complex man. And this morning Diane and I took a little break and drove the golf cart to our local library where I checked out Volume Three of W. B. Yeats' Collected Works, which includes his autobiographical writings. I have to be able to hold my own in the only nation in the world where everyone considers himself a literary critic. Even I, however, have my limits and I refuse to read James Joyce again. After making my way through Ulysses some years ago, I decided it should have come with a warning: "Drink before reading." It certainly appears that Joyce did just that as he sat down to write it.

Pax et bonum...

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