Standing on solid foundations amidst 'Cities of Cards' :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Standing on solid foundations amidst 'Cities of Cards'

Marianna Bartholomew

Tornado damage in Pleasant Grove, Ala. / Photo Credit: Adam DuBrowa FEMA

I love our nation's cities and 20 years ago, certain disasters had me reflecting on the fragility of the "urban webs we weave." I wrote the following from EXTENSION Magazine's Wacker Drive office in Chicago in 1992:

City of Cards
By Marianna Bartholomew

Looking down over this city I know
it could very well be made of paper
as brick and mortar.

These buildings
so broad-shouldered
could tumble tomorrow.

With the Los Angeles riots
the Chicago flood
and Malibu in flames

I am convinced of the fragility
of the urban webs we weave.
Yesterday, I might have looked upon this cityscape
as an impenetrable fortress.

But no more.
Because these buildings have held anchor
a decade or a century
means nothing, really.

An earthquake
a fire
an explosion of human rage

could break this maze of efficiency
in a heartbeat.

based on the works of man or woman
is an illusion.

We must look deeper.

I found this poetry while I was clearing out papers, attempting to "flip" my basement from a storage area to a spot fit for human habitation. The space is looking much better already, and I'm finding poems and writings I haven't seen in a decade or longer.

Reading these particular stanzas brought vividly to mind disasters that seemed to  shake us to our very foundations back in 1992, with the "Los Angeles riots, the Chicago flood and Malibu in flames." I worked many floors up in a skyscraper on Wacker Drive and felt vulnerable.

Just think, I wrote this poem nearly 20 years ago, and life still rolls along. When September 11th hit, I remember feeling "the world will never seem safe again." And yet, here we are. Bombs were just dropping on Libya, people in Japan are still homeless, and now tornadoes and flooding are ravaging America’s heartland … and yet the sun will probably rise tomorrow on a new day.

In our world, unsafe since the Fall, people learn to be resilient. Many also learn to dig deeply into their hearts and souls to allow the light of faith in. I'm always amazed by the heroes and heroines that emerge through tragedy: the September 11th firefighters, the "Fukushima Fifty," and the 20 or so people captured on video who crammed in a convenience store cooler, invoked the Heavenly Father and Jesus, and comforted each other as the tornado raged across Joplin, Missouri.

Each of us is called to live heroically … stoically. Disasters shake civilizations to the core, yet we continue crafting beautiful lives for ourselves and our children by the grace of God, our only unshakeable foundation. Many of us have known extreme joy over these years, despite the sorrows. Births of children, friends and family members wedded, anniversaries celebrated …
Even in a "City of Cards," life goes on … may we thank God for each day of it!

© 2011 Marianna Bartholomew

Topics: Faith

Marianna Bartholomew is winner of six national Catholic Press Association Journalism Awards and Chicago’s 1993 Cardinal’s Communications Award for Professional Excellence. Her articles have appeared in EXTENSION Magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic Digest and in Chicago’s Catholic New World and other diocesan newspapers across the nation. Former Managing Editor of Catholic home mission EXTENSION Magazine, Bartholomew has traveled to and reported on conditions in the poorest, most isolated pockets of our nation, from Louisiana’s Cajun communities and Appalachia’s hollows to Montana’s remote Indian missions. Blessed to be a wife and homeschooling mother of three, she now teaches in a homeschool cooperative, freelance writes from her Chicago area home, and is completing her first novel for young adults. She blogs at

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