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Starting Point

Goodness afoot but not hyped


We are easily seduced by predictions these days. Elections are called before the final votes are tallied. Snowstorms are described before a single flake floats down from the mercurial sky. We hire soothsayers and statisticians to determine the outcome of the stock market and football scores.

There are people in Japan who claim they can cure illness by scrutinizing the soles of people’s feet. There are those who fear that because the Maya calendar runs out in 2012, the world will come to an end. People of India visit the town of Kanchipuram and pay to have their lives predicted based on ancient, inscribed palm leaves.

When I was 15 years old, our black cat, Moses, ran up the side lawn and deposited on the back porch a wiggling, pink, four-legged newborn creature that was unidentifiable. My brother said it was a kitten. My sister said it would grow into a pig. “It’s a rat,” I announced with confidence as my mother looked down with concern. “Well, whatever it is,” she said, “it’s hungry.”

I quickly found a new eyedropper in the medicine cabinet, warmed some milk and tried feeding the mysterious animal. “It sure can drink,” I said. And drink it did, day after day, until the hairless, closed-eyed animal developed fur, wide eyes and a long, full tail. Everyone’s guess was wrong. It was a squirrel.

Funny how we can look at something and believe with certitude that the future will form the image we create in our imaginations. It is sad when such predictions are attached to hubris and money. Our news agencies nationwide have come to believe, it seems, that they can report on stories before they happen. Because they cannot beat out the competition anymore to get the story first, they will do better than that and report the story before it even takes place.

Because the television and radio networks predicted incorrectly, and with hype, that New Jersey would experience one of the worst snowstorms in the last 50 years, the schools were closed one day in February. As my 15-year-old son entered the kitchen after sleeping until 8:30, I said, “Why don’t you call some of your friends and go sledding. At least there is enough snow for that.”

Michael said, “Hey, maybe that’s a good idea.”

“I’ll pick everybody up,” I suggested, “and they can come back later for hot chocolate, and I’ll treat everyone to pizza.”

Michael logged online and dialed friends on the phone at the same time. Within 10 minutes, seven high school sophomores were all set to be picked up at 12:30. I predicted they would have a great time.

Later that day, there were seven teenagers in my living room laughing, talking about their teachers and best friends. There were three empty boxes of pizza on the kitchen counter, and seven plastic toboggans on the driveway.

Our churches and myths are good at predicting hell, doom and cataclysm under the crushing effects of sin. Hopi Indian legends are filled with predictions that we will perish under the weight of technology. I was disappointed when the Vatican tried to pawn off the final secret of Fátima as some specific prediction of Pope John Paul II’s attempted assassination.

I believe evil is small crab grass in the Garden of Eden. I believe we are still a faith-built people. I believe most of our mothers and rabbis, our teachers and priests tell children predictions of hope and goodness.

The Dead Sea scrolls predicted the struggles between light and darkness of our inner selves and forecast that purity of heart will triumph. Even Nostradamus believed that goodness will defeat evil.

My brother Oliver was blind, crippled, born without an intellect and without the ability to speak, chew or talk. My mother said to me often as I fed Oliver, “When you go to heaven, Christopher, the first one to greet you will be Oliver. He will run to you, embrace you and then will say, ‘Thank you.’ ” I think my mother knows better than Nostradamus, Hopi Indians, popes, foot readers and palm leaf sages.

Look closely at what the news organizations are telling us, and look inside your own heart. Listen to CNN, and look at your children being good. Read Newsweek, and watch your husbands and wives go off to work each day with stamina and courage.

Do not be seduced into believing that television news programs and newspapers project what is really happening in the world each day, or what might happen. Do not be misled by their dire predictions and false assumptions. Like most soothsayers and seers, the media experts react to daily events of ugliness because that is what grabs our attention. Goodness, like a rich autumn crop, is not news, but a 15 year old who shoots 13 people in a high school or locusts swooping down upon a rich field are considered worthy items for national attention, with dire predictions that we are evil people heading toward a horrible end.

I liked watching that hairless animal develop into a fat, gray squirrel. I liked listening to my son’s teenage friends this afternoon singing together over pizza and soda. I like thinking about dancing with my brother in heaven.

Let’s see. Should I listen to Dan Rather’s view of the world, or my mother’s? n

Christopher de Vinck’s most recent book is Compelled to Write to You. He is a public school administrator and lives in Pompton Plains, N.J. His e-mail address is devinck@sprynet.com

National Catholic Reporter, April 20, 2001