Tuesday, April 5, 2005

For Peter Jennings - May We Strengthen You as You Strengthened Us

This has been a very difficult week. I haven't been this emotionally overwrought since 9-11. Yes, that was a very different experience, as shocking and violent as the Pope's passing was expected and peaceful, and the recent tsunami disaster was far more devastating. Nonetheless, it isn't often that nations come together so forcefully to respond to an event. On such occasions, I find myself glued to the television for hours on end, counting on the news anchors to be the calm in my confusion. Most of all, it seems, I depend on Peter Jennings. I particularly leaned on his presence during the dark days of 9-11, and I was a bit surprised at how little I've been seeing of him in the past few days.

Today I learned why. Jennings has just been diagnosed with lung cancer. At this point it looks as though he is prepared to fight this insidious disease with everything in his arsenal. I wish him the best and hope they caught it very early. But this was not the news I needed to hear as I am trying to muddle my way through this week.

A few days after 9-11, in a fit of gratitude to this honored anchor for helping to keep me sane, I composed the following poem. I've noticed when I write tributes I tend to always write "we" instead of "me"; I always feel like I'm tapping into a powerful sense of community. I still see him as a leaderly figure, and my thoughts are with him. I suspect he will appreciate all the support he can get.

For Peter

You’ve stood before us as a rock, the solid, firm foundation
Of the newscasts that have kept us captivated.
From your impassive lips we’ve heard the horrors that our nation
Has endured, unfolding terror calmly stated.

You drew us to you Tuesday, and we watched for twenty-four
Straight hours as the breaking news came in.
You introduced the President who said we were at war
But promised we, the strong of heart, would win.

Your stiff lip trembled slightly as the correspondents spoke
From their posts among the rubble and the ashes.
Aghast, you saw the columns crumble in a cloud of smoke
And heard the chilling chaos from the crashes.

“I called my kids,” you told us in a voice so faltering
That we wondered if you might break down in tears
For the families that were torn apart. You paused, urged us to ring
Our loved ones, and continued. But our ears

Picked up on every foible, every word you mispronounced,
Every sentence that you couldn’t quite get right.
And your face displayed your sorrow as you heard the names announced
And beheld the faces of those killed in flight.

We’ve witnessed your exhaustion. We see and sympathize.
You have given us better than your best.
But now it’s time to loose the tears that hide behind your eyes,
To mourn at home and take a well-earned rest.

We thank you for your dedication and serenity.
You’ve done as much as anyone could do.
Although you battle terrorism in security,
We think that you have been a hero, too.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

A Tribute to His Holiness John Paul II - The World's Grandfather

I am not Catholic. But today I feel like I am, or like I should be. I spent four wonderful years in a Catholic high school, so sometimes I feel I'm semi-Catholic by default. But it makes no difference that I'm a Lutheran. I suspect it might not make much difference if I weren't a Christian at all. John Paul II was an extraordinary human being, a man of the people and a reminder of the best we all should strive to be. He was a voice of compassion in a world in which the cruellest voices are too often the loudest; he was that whisper in the background that had been there all my life. I knew that I would miss him when he left us. I don't know if I could have anticipated how much.

Upon reflection, I've decided I've regarded Pope John Paul II as the world's grandfather. Perhaps it was his unabashed affection for the common people that moved me most. I wish I could have seen him in person, been a part of one of those enormous crowds pulsing with youthful energy. In spite of a lack of a personal connection, I'll always regard this Pope as a powerful influence, a Lukan model of kindness and morality. His legacy will endure.

The following is my first meager attempt to honor a man who ranks with Abraham Lincoln as a public figure for whom I have boundless admiration and affection. You're missing the melody, but the lyrics are the important part anyway. Here's to you, Holy Father.


1. We gathered in the shadow of the window where you stood
So many times to bring us words of hope.
We sought in solemn silence any signal that we could
Return that comfort to our precious Pope.
Our candles dwindled dimly as your life began to fade.
It seemed a hush enveloped all of Rome.
Yet you strengthened us once more with one last blessing as we prayed,
Whisp'ring, "Children, I am glad that you have come."

In times of crisis, Holy Father,
We have looked to you.
With courage and compassion,
You have shown us what to do.
You said, "Let the children come,"
And we were happy to obey.
We all are orphans today.

2. We cry for little Karol, for the child we never met -
Though in a sense, we saw him every day.
Your life was touched continually by tragedy, and yet
The joy that filled you never went away.
We weep for our defender, for a man known as "Old Friend,"
For a peacemaker and pilgrim we adored.
Now our golden years together have at last come to an end.
We release you to the glory of the Lord.