Saturday, April 09, 2005

Million Mourner March

I’ve been pondering what a million people in line looks like. The Vatican had to close the line to view Pope John Paul II’s remains Thursday, as the wait was already 12 hours, and preparations would need to be made for the funeral.
I’ve also been wondering why we, as a species, are compelled to “see it for ourselves.” For reasons unknown to me, I have never been fond of pressing groups of people or large gatherings, aside from church potlucks at the park in the summertime. This, of course, has more to do with the food than the fellowship.
However, I will subject myself to such torture, nearly always for the purposes of amusement, enduring the proximity for pleasuring the senses with music and rides on hydraulic monstrosities. Just as military service is pressed upon the young primarily because we older folk would simply desert, my willingness to wait for anything is diminishing as my age increases. I consider it one of the more normal aspects of my being.
Why is it that we are lured to the sights and sounds of rotating lights and sirens, when we should avoid them? Why am I compelled to identify the residue of forest creatures left on the expressway? Why do I want to see a band play, when I’ve already heard their music, can see video of their performances that allow me to see the pores on their foreheads, and eat bon-bons in my underwear while doing so?
Because it’s not the same, that’s why. There is the component of “I was there.” It goes beyond bragging rights, although that can be part of it. There is no substitute, yet, for being physically present when a unique event occurs.
I am a fan of Samuel Clemens, for reasons that, in my wildest dreams, would only flatter me. I have had occasion to visit his home in Hartford, CT. Oh, to be so wealthy to be able to express oneself in architecture and furnishings! There is even a handwritten note from him, addressed to burglars, in the basement. The value of this one-of-a-kind place is that it illustrates and gives presence to what is already a faded personality of great influence on the early 20th century.
I have stood at the base of Michaelangelo’s “David”. I have also stood at the base of a full-sized copy of “David” in a cemetery here in Southern California. To say that they are similar is correct. They are not the same. To tell you how they are different would be quite difficult. I’m sure that context has a lot to do with it, but it is much more than that. One is cast, the other creation.
I know that millions want to express their appreciation and gratitude for a life lived well, whose impact has truly been divine. It is also part of the culture of Catholicism. I, however, cannot easily fathom this depth of humanity. It is truly a wonder.