March 24, 2005

Raining Down From On High


With the fateful medical unfastening almost ancient history and the Congressional fireworks also fading fast, can anyone imagine a calm end to the Terri Schiavo story?     

After studying images of mouth-sealed protesters; potential trespassers; Terri with Michael, and Terri with Mom, maybe I’m ready for my own calm exit from this story.  But maybe that’s because I want to get away before more radical agents take hold of the situation, bringing nothing but hell, fire and lightening bolts.  I’m referring to those people who force lawmakers into lawless acts, nudge up the blindfolds on lady justice and sacrifice their own children to arrest.  (By the way, does it seem like the eyes in this painting are staring straight at you, or just to the side?)

So, what does the latest picture say?

I would start with the upper right corner of the picture frame, suggesting that religious extremists — now having gotten their way with Congress — could grow that much more aggressive in pressing other points on Capitol Hill.  I could imagine the eyes in the painting as the gaze of petitioners looking to intimidate even the Supreme Court.  I have two associations if the court fails to see the light.  The hooded girl averting her eyes, so bodiless and indistinct from the mist, might imply the move to elevate a pure white Terri into martyrdom.  Meanwhile, the painting — seeming to float in front of her — might warn of the invocation of dark Father-figures commanding the casting of stones.

If this sounds a little too associative, I can only imagine how far those well versed in religious iconography could go with it.  Still, it doesn’t take much to appreciate the current traffic in symbolism.  I could have shown you one of literally dozens of news photos circulating now of robed men in Florida toting enormous crucifixes.  (The version the NYT featured online yesterday was set against a blood-red sky.)  In this case, however, some of the symbolism actually approached me.  For example, the first person I showed this photo to said, without blinking an eye: “Oh, it’s the Pieta.”


So, I don’t know.  Is the woman in the photo just Mary Syversen from Front Royal, Virginia, keeping a private vigil outside the Supreme Court, or is it a political actress mindful of the visual weight of Michelangelo’s youthful Mary in mourning?  Or is it just Mary Syversen carrying a unique protest prop and captured in the rain by a quick and literate photographer?  (And, does it really matter which?) 

At this point, I’m exhausted by this tragedy, but still compelled by it.  Like those of you who have posted such moving comments, I take no joy in it.  I feel horrible for everyone involved.  More than anything, I do wish for a peaceful end.  I’m just not sure whether I should know better.

(image1: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta in YahooNews; image 2:

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Michael Shaw
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