Monday, June 30, 2008


In a world of instant access to virtually every kind of information imaginable, it is increasingly difficult to find true wisdom. We find our communities in chat rooms, poetry in text messages, and art in tags sprayed across public places. Great literature is printed on t-shirts and great ideas are reduced to quotes on the bottom of email messages, reverently forwarded to everyone on our mailing list in the hope that some of their brilliance with reflect back upon us from the sterile glow of our computer screens.

McLuhan was right, but not in the way I think he intended. The medium is the message – but the increasingly volatile nature of all media makes that message as insubstantial as the electrons that deliver it.

I’m just as guilty as the next. I scan email messages, flit across my 800 channel digital universe and practice speeding reading so I can take in more and more, while taking less and less to heart.

All of this leads me to one particularly brilliant afternoon last month. The occasion was a celebration of the work of Dr. Rosalie Bertell in her Jubilee Year as a Grey Nun. Anyone who has read this column regularly over the years will know that Dr. Bertell has been my friend, mentor and source of great inspiration. Her advanced age and failing health are no match for the incredible spirit that still burns within. She is truly one of the great spirits of our age.

Dr. Ursula Franklin, Rosalie’s dear friend and equally indomitable spirit was among the hundred or so people who gathered in a dusty old church in downtown Toronto for the celebration. Revered in her own right, Dr. Franklin is an experimental physicist, University Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto, the recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace, and a companion of the Order of Canada.

In the face of so much despair about the world we live in, and the state of our ailing planet, this pair of wonderfully wise, extraordinary women delivered words of great hope that must be shared.

Dr. Bertell began by telling the spellbound audience that we struggle because we don’t know what the Earth is trying to teach us.

“If we don’t learn and listen, then the future looks pretty bleak,” she said. But then her message turned to hope. “I think that life is stronger than death. Life is struggling to be – to exist. This is the most amazing thing that life does.”

Our role, according to Dr. Bertell, is to use the gifts we have given to contribute what we can. “We don’t have the power to do everything,” she said, “but we have the power to influence. We all have gifts - words, music, art. We go wrong when we forget about the big picture.” Bertell reminded us that we can always do just a little bit more.

Dr. Franklin’s German accent is still strong after almost 60 years in Canada, and her voice thin and crackles with age. And yet her message, is crystal clear. She responded to Dr. Bertell’s words by reminding us of,“ The harmful conceit of secular power that tries to rearrange the world for the benefit of the few.”

Dr. Franklin said that we must rejoice in the presence of each other and live as a counterbalance to this conceit of power.

“We have to live respectfully, gracefully and humbly and draw our strength from two great pillars of truth,” she said, “The first is a pillar of faith – faith that we are part of this benign Cosmos. The second pillar is that as a species we have been given the greatest sense of discernment that enables us to tell right from wrong.”

In honoring her dear friend, Dr. Franklin said that Rosalie brings the clarity of mind and faith that enables her to know this difference. After many decades of struggling herself, Dr. Franklin acknowledged that this isn’t an easy path.

“How in the face of evident stupidity – how do we keep on doing that which has to be done?” she asked. “Given our endowment of discernment there is no option. There is no difference between those we can do without and those we hold dear.”

And then with a gentle smile she added, “Once your eyes are opened, you cannot close them again.”


Much of the world of Dr. Rosalie Bertell can be found on the International Institute of Concern for Public Health’s website.

While there is no single website dedicated the to the work of Dr. Ursula Franklin, Google her name for a list of publications, international awards and even a school named in her honor.


Blogger Barry said...

I have great respect and affection for the Grey Nuns who worked closely with my Great Uncle Msgr. John Fraser, founder of Scarborough Missions, during his time in China.

July 02, 2008 4:05 PM  

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