I’ve held my son in my arms today. It was so long since last I did that. Years. For three years now he has been dying to me, a little at a time. I suppose I knew this is how it would end. But you always hope, you hope against the darkness, you hope against death. But he was dead. I saw him. It is a strange thing.
I’ve never seen him…dead before, he who was always so full of life, more fully alive than anyone I have ever known, pulsing with youth, agility, vigor. Life…now drained out. Yes, I’ve seen him asleep many times, I’ve sung him to sleep as a child. Inside my womb, I imagine he slept. But tonight I saw him…dead. Every muscle, every potential movement never to be made, forever made stone.
How long have I taken for granted that his heart would always beat beneath mine? But now that second heart has stopped. How long have I taken for granted that he was breathing somewhere? Even if I could not be with him, I knew he was there, that when I breathed, he breathed. How many nights have I looked out the window and seen the stars? And I knew that somewhere he would be looking at those same stars.
How many holidays have passed and I looked forward to them, for I knew I would see my son again? They were meant to be good times, when family and friends were meant to ease each other’s burning loneliness for the other. They were the times that the Lord God ordained to gather His people together, up to the Holy City. After the long separations, they were like some small return when we were a family, under the same roof, and always together in each other’s presence.
I remember, when Joseph still lived, how happy we were together, how simple our daily lives, how full of work and play and love, and his jokes while at his craft and the wood carvings I swept up off the floor. Joseph was so proud of him, following his craft. But then he went away, as I knew he must. And yet I still grieved for him, and the carvings I would sweep up no more and the extra place at table forever empty.
And so the Passover came, as it always comes, a day of freedom’s song for the sons and daughters of Israel. But I knew this night was like no other night. I knew he was gone from me, and I knew not where, but I knew he was gone, and asked the silence, “Where is my son? Where have they taken him?”
It was only later that I learned that the high priests had finally closed their nets around him in the garden where he went to pray. It has always been his way to pray alone, even as a child. I taught him his first prayer. I am the one who taught him that the best prayer is the one prayed alone, not where the people can see you, but where God alone is enough.
I followed his friends to try to see what had happened. They said they were taking him to Pilate. His own people would take him to a foreigner for condemnation? Why? Why my son? Why?! He never did you any harm! Why?! Why…?
I stood there in the crowd when they brought him out. And the Roman said of him, “Behold the Man” – He is but a boy to me! He is young! He is young…and he was covered in blood and spittle! I could not even see his eyes, for the bruising! And a foreigner would show him more pity than his own people. He would have let him go, but no…no.
I stood in a crowd, and when they saw my son, they cried out as wolves baying for the blood of lambs, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Why? Why do you want to crucify my son? Why?!
They’ve seen crucifixions; I’ve seen crucifixions.
Yes…back from my childhood, I remember how my mother would try to shield my face. But as I grew older, I saw them dotting the hills, I saw them dotting the roads. And I would be called out with the other women to be of some solace to other dying to boys, to moisten their lips, to speak some words of comfort to them as they struggled and choked on their last breath.
With ropes it is bad enough; with nails, driven through living flesh…one never removes such images from the mind…
But never had it struck through my own home before. Never had it claimed my own flesh.
I could not believe what I was hearing. Look at him! Have you not done enough? He can barely stand! Let me go to him! He is bleeding, and he will die…and you…you want to finish the job slowly. You want to suffocate my boy!
And so you have done it. And still, when he could barely breathe, he asked God’s mercy on you, for you know not what you did! And I must…do the same, though I am looking into his empty eyes, and a body that has no being in it.
I am covered in blood…his blood, that is my blood.
All you who pass by, look and see if there is any sorrow, like my sorrow…
This night is like no other night, for the temple curtain has been rent.
And we will never go there again.
How does one face the morning after such a night as this? I watch the blood dry on the cloth that I am still wearing, red on blue, a cruel purple like the robe they flung on him for a mock king. I watch the lights dying beyond the window, and falling over my hands, like the water fell over Pilate’s hands. But nothing can wash away the hurt from my heart.
I remember, so many years, when the light first touched me. I never knew such a feeling of rapture before. And now I know an equal measure of grief.
O my God, my God, why have you forsaken your handmaid?
I have gone down into the pit with him…why may I not die with him?
I must rest a while. I must rest on the dark side of love, and wait for the blood red flower of the dawn…