Once upon a time I had an interview at Warwick University – which turned out quite well – which meant having to spend the previous night in Coventry. So I had an evening in a new town to myself, and did some wandering around, and came across the two cathedrals – the gleaming new post-war barn and the stone skeleton of the old one next to it, burned out by Luftwaffe incendiary bombs. And as I learned the story of the new cathedral, and how German volunteers helped with the work and how it has developed a worldwide ministry of reconciliation, I fell in love with it and decided I simply had to write a story about it.
It took a few years – had to become a writer, first – but I did write it, and it was awful, thrumming with love and Christianity and general goodness, and for sheer ickiness it broke all known records. Fortunately I could tell it icked and sat on it.
Many years after that, by a miracle, good friend Gus Smith (who writes as Gus Grenfell) suggested a way it could be de-icked, at least a little, and I’m eternally grateful to him for the suggestion, which a character takes up in the last few paragraphs. In fact I would go so far as to say atheist Gus (albeit with a Methodist minister father) came up with a much more Christian solution than I was managing: I love these little ironies. Residual ick may lurk in some sentences but overall it is much, much stronger than it used to be. The story finally got written, and published in Interzone, where it came 46th= in the annual readers’ poll, but what do they know? I called it “Cathedral No. 3”, unaware (after three years living in Coventry) that in actual historical fact any new cathedral would be cathedral no. 4.
All this brought to mind by the move afoot in New York to build a mosque near to the Ground Zero site. “Near” is a relative term: one of the comments over at Making Light’s take on the story reminds us that in a city anywhere is “near” somewhere else.
Not dismissing for one second the pain felt by those who lost loved ones on 9/11, it’s this kind of spirit that always lets society move on and improve upon the past. Whenever dictatorships are replaced with stable democracies, or people of different races accept integration as the norm, or no one cares any longer if you’re Protestant or Catholic, it’s because people let go of the hurt. Or, failing that, just shut up and don’t talk about it and go to their graves bitter and wizened but they keep it to themselves and the poison doesn’t leak out into a new generation.
I think a mosque near Ground Zero would be a jolly good idea.