By REV. SHELLEY McVEA
I was enjoying a leisurely Friday morning, getting ready for a week of holidays starting the next day when the news came on CBC radio. Salman Rushdie had been stabbed!
He was waiting on the podium, ready to speak at a conference ground in upstate New York. A conference ground called Chautauqua. The very place that I was heading the next day.
A feeling of dread came over me. Would Mr. Rushdie make it? How badly was he hurt? How were all the people doing who had witnessed the attack? How could the young man have managed to get all the way up onto the stage? Would the upcoming week be cancelled?
Knowing how open this 750-acre conference ground is, I wondered how the staff would manage what would doubtless be extra security the following week.
Although news was scarce about Mr. Rushdie’s condition, it did seem to be very serious. Only later did we find out that he had lost the sight in one eye, and the use of one of his hands. It was jarring and sad all at the same time.
The only slight smile I could muster was hearing the many different ways that commentators mispronounced the word Chautauqua.
Of course, the following week of programming was not cancelled. Many people come for a week to Chautauqua, arriving on a Saturday afternoon, and leaving the following Saturday morning.
So many of the guests (the outdoor amphitheatre seats 3,000 to 4,000 people) who had witnessed the tragedy would be gone. But the staff would be the same.
Would they speak of the incident? It would be hard not to.
We were all concerned, and little news was being broadcast at that point about Mr. Rushdie’s condition. Here’s where I was so impressed. This is an institution that since 1874 has been dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, education, leisure, and all within a lovely outdoor setting of gardens, tall trees, turn-of-the-century gingerbread homes, a little forest, and a beautiful lake.
The president of the institution spoke personally to everyone assembled that day at the amphitheatre. They would be taking extra security precautions, of course, but they would never stop be a place where all were welcome. Where all viewpoints could be spoken boldly, listened to, and discussed. Where violence would never be accepted as a legitimate means of discourse. They would never stop believing this.
He also had just spoken to Salman Rushdie on the phone and was also able to give us an update, which was re-assuring. He also led us in prayers for Mr. Rushdie’s recovery.
Sometimes words can be strengthened by actions. Security of course was heightened. State troopers, with their ‘top of the head’ hats were much in evidence.
There was no more carrying big parcels into the amphitheatre. These were all practical measures.
But on that day, a very moving spiritual tradition was also enacted. As we sat in silence in the amphitheatre, all of the board members slowly went throughout this great outdoor place with large bowls of water and sprigs of hyssop. They gently sprinkled the place and the people for cleansing and healing.
My mind went to that beautiful Psalm of King David “cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean.” A new start was needed. A new beginning had commenced.
As we come to grips with the continuing violence in our own beloved city, may we also stand together in solidarity with each other.
May we be thankful for all the dedicated people who work everyday to bring goodness and practical help to those in need or danger.
May we encourage those who come up with inspiring innovative ideas.
And may we work together to solve our problems and find a new way forward.
If you ever have a change to visit Chautauqua Institution, take it. It’s only an hour outside of Buffalo and it’s a great place.
— Rev. Shelley McVea is priest at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church located at Kimberley and Swanwick avenues. Services are at 10:30 a.m.on Sundays in person or via Zoom www.stsaviours.ca; www.facebook.com/churchwithreddoor/ Proclamation! Podcast now available for free through iTunes. Worshiping together since 1891.
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