the diary thing 
I WAS WRONG, IT SEEMS, about Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In my last entry, I wrote that he was "agnostic", assuming that despite -- or because of -- his Jesuit upbringing in the rigidly Catholic Quebec before the "Quiet Revolution", he had shrugged off his faith as peripheral to the demands of a worldly life and an impeccably logical mind.

Certainly, at no point in his public life, in any of his speeches or the legislation he enacted, did he refer to any spiritual motivation, any moral imperative not dictated by strict polity, in any rhetoric that relied on religion or religious conviction. Much as he once famously stated that the state had no place in the bedrooms of the nation, it seemed that he also believed that God had no place in the minutes of the House of Commons.

Perhaps he felt that invoking the name of God, or assuming that he spoke in His name, was not only presumptuous but tasteless. In any case, during his televised funeral yesterday, at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, one of the commentators mentioned that Trudeau attended weekly mass at his parish church, and often spent lunch hours praying with the Benedictine monks near his home. It was a revelation to me.

God was once invoked as a matter of course in parliamentary politics, usually as the Empire's greatest supporter. In the United States, the separation of church and state, supposedly guaranteed in the consitution, has done nothing to keep God and his interests out of the Senate or Congress. Indeed, if you didn't know better, you'd assume that the Almighty was merely the most effective of all the lobby groups renting offices off the Mall and holding lavish lunches and receptions at Washington hotels, using His connections to help a congressman's kid to get into a good college while taking a senator on a golf vacation at a nice resort in the Georgia Sea Islands. In any case, a casual reading of the voting records of everyone from Strom Thurmond to Al Gore reveals a deity that makes no secret of where he stands on everything from late-term abortions and education to the military and foreign policy, even if, like the best lobbyist, he manages to be impressively bi-partisan most of the time.

God has been absent from much of the governmental activity of Canada for the past generation or two, perhaps because His presence is so elusive -- we don't know whether to call him Lord, Great Spirit, the Creator, Allah, Rama, Buddha or the Life Force, so we politely keep him out of the conversation, and assume that, like most of the country's citizens, he regards the activities in Ottawa with only occasionally peevish indifference.

That will probably change with the new opposition party led by Stockwell Day, a prairie fundamentalist who, whenever he was asked to define his relationship to Trudeau during the official elegies in Ottawa or in the crowd at Notre Dame in Montreal, never failed to point out that he never met the man, but had always opposed Mr. Trudeau in deed and spirit. The most profound thing he could say about the late prime minister on the floor of the house involved quoting lyrics from "The Rose". In one moment, the tone of national debate had dropped a few notches with a distinct shudder.

Day apparently believes the earth was created in time for us to make the dinosaurs extinct through the unfortunate -- but not illegal -- use of leg-hold traps, and that He might control every aspect of our lives, but He is certainly oppposed to Big Government, Toronto and the Liberal party.

"In the eyes of men he falls, and in his own eyes too. He falls from his high place, he trips on his achievement. He falls to you, he falls to know you. It is sad, they say. See his disgrace, say the ones at his heel. But he falls radiantly toward the light to which he falls."
- Leonard Cohen
"In the Eyes of Men"

A short one today. Watching a funeral on television.

ANOTHER TESTAMENT TO TRUDEAU'S remarkable character was his throng of honourary pallbearers who, besides the usual group of friends and political comrades, included Fidel Castro, Jimmy Carter and Leonard Cohen. There's something that makes me giddy about the sight of Castro, somber in the well-cut black suit he wears when fatigues aren't appropriate, sitting in the same church pew as Carter listening to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", while the man who wrote "The Future", "Democracy" and "Field Commander Cohen" sits a few feet away taking it all in. I like to think there's a poem or a song there, but perhaps it's all just too ridiculous, even for a Jewish Buddhist.

In the crowd outside the church, Carter said he opposed U.S. sanctions against Cuba, and advocated seeing them lifted. He greeted Trudeau's two grown sons, and then hugged Deborah Coyne and her daughter Sarah, Trudeau's daughter from the last decade of his life. "You're a brave little girl," he's reported to have told her. K.'s generally warm opinion of Carter ballooned at that moment. She was appalled at how Coyne and her daughter seemed to have been shunted off to the sidelines as the "second family". 

I just thought it was pleasant to see a Catholic high mass in a Montreal church become the defining National Moment at the turn of a new century. I spotted diplomats in djiboutis and fezes in the crowd, and thought about Carter the Baptist, and Fidel the Official Atheist mouthing the Latin he probably knew all too well. The whole scene resonated with a glorious, dignified absurdity that I'm sure Trudeau would have appreciated.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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