Duluth News Tribune Sam Cook column
Mar 15, 2013 (Duluth News Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Like a lot of other non-Catholics, I suppose, I was fascinated once again this week by the smoke signals from the Sistine Chapel. Black smoke, no new pope yet. White smoke, new pope.
So important is this tradition that cable news networks inserted a small video in the corner of their regular programming showing the chapel's smokestack.
Having not been raised Catholic, I had to go to Google to learn about the colors of the smoke. Mostly, I wondered how the cardinals meeting in seclusion made the smoke black or white. Here's what I found at about.com:
"The eligible cardinals conduct a secret ballot until someone receives a vote of two-thirds plus one. The ballots are burned after each vote. Black smoke (straw is mixed with the ballots) indicates a failed ballot, white smoke means a new pope has been elected. Since the cardinals meet in isolation, it's the only way to inform the public about the proceedings."
I wonder if it occurred to anyone that maybe a cardinal could have put an iPhone in the pocket of his robe Then, when a decision had been reached, he could have sent a text message out to someone at the main office. Something as simple as, "R U ready Francis! OMG."
Finally, a logical and appropriate use of "OMG."
Twitter would be another option, I suppose. But then we'd have had cardinals tweeting in the spring, and that just seems confusing.
Personally, though, I like the smoke. It's tradition, for one thing. And although some traditions need to go, this one is worth keeping. We live in an era of instant communication, where nothing remains a secret for more than a millisecond. With the smoke, you've got a signal: Yes! A decision has been reached.
But you've also got mystery that won't be revealed for several more minutes. Who is it Where's he from
The throngs of assembled faithful at the Vatican squirmed with palpable and papal anticipation. That's good. We need a little mystery now and then. We need to remember how to wait. And sometimes, we just need a symbol, a sign, rather than all the details.
But then, I'm just partial to fire, done right. Fire in the fireplace. Fire in the woodstove. Fire in a fire grate on a rainy night in the canoe country.
Have you ever been paddling along a rocky shoreline up north when you caught the faint whiff of wood smoke on the breeze You know, as surely as a new pope has been selected, that someone is camped just around the point. And you paddle on with anticipation until you finally come upon the camp of your fellow voyageurs.
Or maybe you're snowshoeing back to your winter camp in border country after a day of ice-fishing. You're weary and hungry, and as your canvas tent comes into view, you see a wisp of white wood smoke twisting out of the stovepipe. Ahh. One of your partners has fired up the stove. And you know that all is right in your world.
Just the way Catholics around the globe felt on Wednesday.
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at "twitter.com/samcookoutdoors."
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