April 10, 1998,8:00 p.m.

 Today's Brian's birthday....and Brian, like Barb, is of Irish ancestry. It's also Good Friday...and the heart of the conflict in Northern Ireland is spawned by two different approaches to how you view the suffering of a Man on a torture device nearly two thousand years

So it's perhaps appropriate that this is also a day when a peace accord in Northern Ireland may have been reached.

 I have outlived so many conflicts that I never hoped to many conflicts that could have been ended in oceans of blood...but didn't.

I outlived the end of the Cold War. That was a "war" that we of the fifties' and sixties' fully expected to end in a thermonuclear war which would have destroyed both nations. I saw the fall of the Soviet Union, something I never expected, never dared hope for. It fell reasonably quietly, a heroic struggle, but not a bloodbath-- nor was there any nuclear war.

I outlived the fall of the South African apartheid regime. I actually expected to outlive that, but I expected a gigantic revolution, where thousands of whites would have been killed, as the black majority gained power. I expected something like the French Revolution, I expected it to be bloody, I expected it to be horrific. Yet--it hasn't. Again, it hasn't been perfect. Compared to what I was expecting, though, it was mild indeed.

Will I outlive another source of seemingly unending conflict? Could this Northern Ireland thing work? I'm afraid to hope...but I'm no longer as pessimistic as I have been.

I've been pleasantly surprised too many times.

 Good Friday is always an odd holiday in the Christian religion...where you believe the Creator of the Universe deliberately let Himself suffer the greatest pain possible....for the rest of us. You can't really "celebrate" it without seeming ghoulish and sadistic, no matter how much it might have been necessary for what was to come afterwards. Even if you don't believe, its a reminder of Man's injustice against others...of how the innocent are often sacrificed for the "good" of the people.

For the disciples of Jesus, it was the end of all hope. The Messiah on which they pinned their hopes on--died just like any other man. They were disillusioned and hunted, and the Man they had followed for a year or two was now so much meat hanging from a cross-shaped rack. They doubtless felt themselves fools, gulled, sad at the passing of their Master, disappointed that no miracles happened to save Him.

 Have you never been there? At the very rock-bottom of hopelessness, where you think you have done nothing but been a fool for years? Some of you have realized your spouse or lover is not who you thought they were, and realized the years you invested in them was investing in a lie. Or have you never been hunted, wanted by authorities, wondered where you could go, who you could trust, and realize you have possibly sold your freedom...for a dream that was a lie?

Or invested years in a task, only to find those you thought would appreciate it.... turned on you, reviled you, spat on you?

Have you never questioned your own sanity? Have you never wondered if what you thought was real and true was all a lie, ever wondered if you have been deluded for years? If what you thought you saw...what you personally witnessed...might be all a delusion born of a fevered brain?

Have you never been there? Many of us have. If so, perhaps you can appreciate, a little, how the disciples felt. The bitterness in their mouths, the hate and self-loathing in their hearts, the fear gnawing in their bellies. They had watched what they thought was the Hope of the World twist, and cry, and yell at the Cosmos why He had been forsaken. They had watched His slow torture over hours, in one of the cruellest deaths man has ever conceived.

Whether you are religious or not, you have probably been someplace similar. Someplace where all hopes seem futile and empty, where all aspirations were mistaken, where all your "illusions" were crushed.

I can think of several such passages in my own life...when I knew I had screwed up so incredibly that I thought I could never redeem myself.

 Of course, one reason Good Friday is considered sacred by Christians is our beliefs, if you didn't stop there.

That there was joy unlooked-for beyond this. Joy beyond hope.

Sometimes you are afraid to hope. Sometimes....just luck out anyway.

Sometimes you get a kid so bright and so talkative and so alive that you forget that the other two can't say a word. You love all three...but Brian's very normalness makes him very special to us. It may have been twelve years of near-incessant talking...but take it from me.

It's much better than silence.

Sometimes decades of hate, with roots that stretch back centuries, can really be negotiated into a settlement.

Only sometimes. Sometimes is much better than....never.

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