Public deaths

These days, in the northern hemisphere, we are surrounded by the tender and tentative beauty of renewal. The soft haze of chartreuse buds fills the horizon lines while great jolts of color are filling in the groundplanes. We sense the return of light, of growth, of regeneration. People living in the southern hemisphere are moving towards darkness, barrenness in their landscapes, the sense of shutting down. With this major difference, despite all the talk of globalization making everything the same worldwide, how are the people in the different hemispheres responding to the very public deaths during this past week?

The death of Terri Schiavo created such divisiveness amongst people. There was no sense of salvation available for people on either side of the story. The pope's death, however, brought people together all around the world. It seemed possible that even non-believers, non-Catholics, could respect the grief of the followers and share their mourning with them.

In the northern hemisphere we are caught with the irony of having death so present in our lives, while our landscapes are surrounding us with rebirth. In the southern hemisphere, do the people feel more oppressed by the timing of these deaths, sensing a dreaded moving towards a very dark night?

Watching the shattered faces shown on television after Terri Schiavo's death, no relief from the imponderable fact of death seemed accessible. There were no rituals to follow - we were all in alien territory. This same scene of shattered faces could be seen in St. Peter's Square with the announcement of the pope's death. Then the ritual of saying the Rosary started, and slowly the broken and cracked faces softened, and serenity seeped into them. The sorrow in these faces was still highly palpable, but there was calm in the deep sorrow.

For a brief moment, one could understand the importance of ritual and forget the travesties, in the name of religion, that have been imposed on civilizations over the millenniums.

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