Tragedy and Evil / Hope and Resurrection

It’s been a week of religious tragedy.

When news got out about Notre Dame burning last Monday, this ubiquitous, media-worthy word – “tragedy” – sprang immediately into the headlines and conversations of the day.  It was unthinkable that such an iconic structure could be filled with flames, at that very moment.

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I have been to Notre Dame. I visited a lot of churches when I was in France. This was partly because I did much of my travelling with my Catholic flatmate, and partly because churches are lovely places to visit. They are almost always open; they are quiet; the candles smell nice; the sun comes through stained glass in beautiful colours; people from all sorts of countries gather peacefully. And the buildings are so old – there is a sense of wonder that comes just from knowing that humans stepped on these same stones many centuries ago, and that although their lives were very different from ours today, the things they saw while standing in the nave were almost exactly the same as what we see. It feels like a condensation of time.

When I heard that Notre Dame was burning, I was shocked and dismayed to think of the beauty and art and history of that building – one that means so much to so many people (as evidenced by the subsequent fundraising for repairs) was suffering damage. (Typically enough, as a francophile with an MA in French lit, I also thought immediately of Victor Hugo and how shook he would have been.)

It was a good exercise in critical thinking to talk with Sean about it. (This is often the case when I talk to my husband – about anything.) He did not switch to auto-tragedy-mode when he heard about it. He can understand why people are upset, but he sees the building as a symbol of the Catholic church, an organization of which he is none too fond. He sees it as the worst of the patriarchy and extravagance, not to mention a bastion of systemic, systematic, global, multilayered abuse. Also, it’s an organization that has a lot of money. He was frustrated thinking of all the funds pouring in to help rebuild this symbol instead of financing something that will make a real difference in the lives of those actually in need.

To his point about finances, it’s worth noting that Notre Dame has been owned by the French government, not the Catholic Church, since 1905. So, although the building’s use is “dedicated exclusively to the Roman Catholic rite”, the church is not on the hook for repairs. But we humans do have a habit of directing money towards… NOT the most urgent needs (a point illustrated by The Beaverton with the hilarious/awful article “Catholic Church assures billionaires that none of their Notre Dame donations will go to poor“).

I took a screen shot of this last week, because it is so pithy and true:

To Sean’s second point about the problems with the church, I also can’t disagree. I know lots of wonderful individual Catholics, but I am aware that Catholicism is an institution with facets that can be described as warped, monstrous, and immoral. (The Canadian Indian Residential Schools are a particular sore spot with me.) When it comes to Notre Dame, though, I argued that 1) it’s not really a Catholic symbol – France separated church and state ages ago and is pretty vehement about it, and 2) you really think we shouldn’t care about damage to historic buildings? You think you wouldn’t be awestruck, even a little bit, standing beneath those legendary arches? I think he would be. He loves history. But he is also upset with a lot of things humans have wrought, with good reason.

It’s nice to hear that the damage was not as bad as expected at Notre Dame, and that people have come to feel hopeful about it. But the point that Sean and many others keep coming back to is: it’s just a building.

Never was that more obvious than yesterday, on Easter Sunday, when – as groups all over the world pondered rebirth and second chances in their myriad forms – the news came that there had been eight bombings targeting Christians in Sri Lanka. For all the relics and art of the Notre Dame fire, no human lives were deliberately, violently taken – or even accidentally lost. It’s hardly in the same category of catastrophe. I’m sure large amounts of  art and architecture and beauty and history were destroyed in Sri Lanka yesterday, but no one is talking about that, or about what “stuff” can be salvaged from the blasts. People are talking about the almost three hundred people whose lives are over, and the thousands of others whose lives are scarred forever. THAT is tragedy.

Associated Press, via

Funnily enough, I have not seen a single article about billions of dollars pouring into Sri Lanka to help in the rebuilding there. No one is feeling hopeful about this devastation. Resurrection is not forthcoming.

At the top of this post, I said that it’s been a week of “religious tragedy.” We could mention that in these specific incidents, the suffering has been mostly Christian, but really – it’s a tragedy for everyone when violence is perpetrated between religious groups. Every time someone chooses hatred as a way to express faith and make a mark on the world – and there are countless examples – it is a blight on our species. With these advanced brains, we’re supposed to do better than that.

Yesterday, as I often do on Easter, I thought about thawing and baby leaves and birth and greenness, and how grateful I am every spring for the shift into lively life. We got to take a walk by the marsh and listen to choruses of frogs and red-winged blackbirds (and we even saw a muskrat!).

At this moment, on Easter Monday, Earth Day 2019 is drawing to a close in the Eastern DS time zone. Where we live, it was a beautiful mild day when we could open windows and almost see grass growing. CBC’s top stories today include declining numbers of bumblebees in Canada, flooding in Québec, and Ontario’s “most anti-environmental” government in generations.

Here’s a photo that struck me the day after the Paris fire, posted on Twitter by Torrance Coste from B.C. (and used with permission): “This tree was 100 years old when Notre Dame was built. Others like it, part of an ecosystem thousands of years older than Paris, are cut down every day. The cathedral fire is absolutely tragic, but we wilfully destroy similar wonders for profit, and that’s worth reflecting on.”

Every time we think about a tragedy, there’s always one bigger. People are sad about Notre Dame, and I am not one to judge what makes people sad. People are sad about Sri Lanka, of course, and the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, and Mozambique, and the list goes on and on. And these wretched spots on the globe seem relatively scattered compared to We are poisoning/ flooding/ burning/ desertifying/ desecrating/ killing our planet from every source and direction. I am sad about that.

On Earth Day, I think we’re supposed to feel hopeful. We’re supposed to smile gamely and say, “Let’s clean up the world for ourselves and our kids! C’mon, everybody!” I do put on a game face for my kids and students, because we can’t just throw in the towel. There has to be hope to fuel effort… but I find it harder every year that we continue to be a stupider species than we think we are. We are terrifying close to a brink we can’t see, and I am confident that I will live to see things get a whole lot brinkier. Will we ever get serious? Will we ever shape up and quit bombing each other to focus on preserving our own habitat? As such irresponsible, squabbling, selfish denizens, do we even deserve to come back from that edge?



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I’ll keep my multicoloured Friday, thanks.

So, apparently some Canadian retailers are trying to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon.

I’d like to state, for the record, that I OBJECT, for the following reasons:

  1. It doesn’t make sense. Most Canadians have NEITHER the Friday after American Thanksgiving NOR the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving off (for the purposes of frenzied consumerism or any other). As long as that is true, retailers will never get the same bang for their sales buck as they do in the U.S.
  2. It’s confusing. Which Friday is it, anyway? Some Canadians go cross-border shopping on U.S. Black Friday, but now businesses up here are trying to colour today black, six weeks earlier. You can’t do both. It’s grabby-looking and awkward.
  3. It’s WAY too early to start Christmas shopping in Canada. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Christmas, and I enjoy ambling around a festively-decorated mall – when the season is right. The commercial-powers-that-be seem to be decorating earlier and earlier each year (well before Halloween these days), and that doesn’t make me feel festive. It makes me want to poke an elf in the eye.
  4. It’s THANKSGIVING, for pilgrim’s sake. You’re supposed to be with people you love, having a cozy meal around a warm table, feeling grateful for the gifts in your life. Something about “Dear [worship recipient], thank you for the blessings and good fortune surrounding me; now all I need is a flatscreen with digital surround-sound at 70% off and my life will be complete” just doesn’t ring true.
  5. The Black Friday phenomenon is just… disturbing. Let’s be frank: offering some great deals and asking people to come out shopping on their holiday one month before Christmas is reasonable, but this innocent-enough concept has morphed into something beastly.
Image from
Image from

Honestly, images like these make my heart want to puke. Not only are folks leaving their Thanksgiving table (and I mean that literally – Black Friday sales have crept up in the last decade, until they’re now happening as early as 8 pm on “Gray Thursday”) to buy shit that’s essentially meaningless, they are doing so with such frantic rapacity that people get injured – shoved, crushed, stabbed, punched – every year. In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee in Valley Stream, NY, was actually trampled to death by the crowd.

Come ON. That is completely f*cked up.

Thus, here is my solemn vow to all Canadian retailers, and to all of you in Blogland:

I hereby swear that I will strenuously avoid all businesses in the whole world offering sales of any magnitude on any Black or even Grayish Friday or Thursday or WHATEVER*, until death shall shuffle me off this mortal coil. If ever I should stray from my sworn promise, my next of kin is authorized to make me listen to Rebecca Black’s Friday on repeat for as long as s/he shall deem necessary.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canucks.

*Groceries excepted. Pie is not optional.



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If I Had (Half) a Million Dollars

Did you ever play “If I won the lottery” when you were a kid? Or a grown-up?

My best friend and I played it pretty often when we were kids, despite the fact that we didn’t buy lottery tickets. I still play the game sometimes, even though my only lottery participation is through scratchable cards in my Christmas card from my principal.

We have friends who play the lottery, though. In fact, we have friends who won.

A while back, our friends who split a lottery ticket every week won a million dollars – for real. So two young families we know each had 500K all of a sudden. It’s not the kind of money where you retire immediately, move to the tropics, buy a mansion and a Corvette, and blah blah blah. If you win half a million dollars, you still need a day job.

BUT, it takes away some stress. All at once, our friends could own their homes outright, and make sure they had funding for their kids’ education and for retirement.

With all that taken care of, your regular income can go a lot further. Sean and I enjoyed thinking about that. We still don’t play the lottery, but it’s fun to imagine what you’d do with disposable income.

If it were all up to Sean, I think he’d end up with one of everything Apple makes. Plus one of those bags that can survive a croc attack, and one jillion skeletools.

I mostly think about what I’d do with our home. I’m not overly acquisitive – I rarely shop for recreation, and I don’t often spend time looking at (or for) stuff I want online. I grew up Quaker, which had a big influence on my habits (living simply is a major Quaker goal, even if we don’t always manage as simply as we could).

But if I had the freedom to do what I wanted with my home, I can think of MANY things I would spend money on.

We would move to a different neighbourhood, one of the ones we covet (preferably close to our babysitter).

My ideal home is not big. (I adore Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House books.) I have no desire whatsoever for any house so big that I couldn’t hear my kids if they cried or called to me… or a house too big to clean myself. I would want my dream home to be cozy.

Find this book. You will want a not-so-big house too.

I mean this literally as well as psychologically – I would insulate the crap out of it (or into it) and get kick-ass windows with NO DRAFTS. We would have R-value out the wazoo. (Can you tell I am presently living with drafty windows?)

I would have a yard with a deck – preferably cedar or something sustainable – with a hu-normous (as E would say) umbrella for the table. Also, some real shade. And a cherry tree that actually bears cherries. (We had a cherry tree in our front yard when we moved into our present house, but it was in the process of dying by the jaws of carpenter ants. We cut it down, and now the neighbours always mention how the whole neighbourhood used to partake of those cherries. I think they thought we cut it down just to be churlish.)

There would also be a garage, so the bikes and strollers would have someplace to live. I wouldn’t want a fancy car to go in there – although a solid minivan with really good mileage would be prudent right now.

I know Sean would be on board with getting a Dyson vacuum cleaner, so that vacuuming would become a joy.

dyson ball vacuum cleaner
Steers like a dream, they say.

That being said, our floors would probably be mostly cork or bamboo.

My kitchen would ROCK. It would have a sunny breakfast alcove and a proper island, and a stone-tile backsplash. And by God, it would have a dishwasher. (How I wish I had a dishwasher right now.)

But the best thing about my house would be the windows. I would have clerestory windows, bay windows, and especially skylights. We would bathe in natural light every day. It would be AWESOME. (And no drafts.)

That would be me sitting there. (It’s not.)

Other than that, I would pay some visits to people I love in places like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, North Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, California, and Washington DC. And Costa Rica. And the UK. And I would finally hike some mountains in British Columbia.

I would only buy good-quality comfortable shoes that would last me for years.

And… maybe I’d get a banjo.

Huh. I think I might need the whole million, after all. Good thing it’s only a game. 🙂

Want to play? What would YOU do?



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