I walk out to my circle garden at Gentlewood to join Mary on the swing. It’s Good Friday and my intuition has previewed today’s talk. She doesn’t look up when I come to sit down.
Are you ready to go?
Mary takes me to Benson Hall, the community room across my church, Emmanuel Episcopal in Eastsound. It’s Saturday night, March 23rd, the weekend I moved back into my home at Gentlewood.
It’s a full group that’s decided to come to participate in a service marking the 39th year since the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, now a saint of the Catholic church.
Do you understand why you are here?
Yes. A while back when we talked about how to look and how to feel during our Lenten pilgrimage together, I commented, "what does this have to do with Lent?"
Yes. That’s right.
This was what was coming. You knew I would go to this event and that this would remind me of a modern day crucifixion.
Yes. We needed something that you could relate to. Let’s move forward and watch.
It’s a strange thing to watch a movie of yourself. But I quickly become absorbed in the topic at hand. Father Berto is at stage center, describing the life and dedication of Romero. The same facts that seized me then grip me now. Here are some of the snippets from the talk:
El Salvador about the size of Massachusetts…essentially controlled by 14 wealthy families…he was increasingly involved with the life of the poor, urging reform and an end to the death squads. He had a popular radio show and his church masses informed the public, he was a town crier...He wrote to President Carter a month before his death asking the US to stand down their support of the seated government and let the people deal directly with their government...The administration backed the regime and supported it financially and with arms. The letter was left unanswered.
Sally, back in the same daze I felt that evening:
I remember. The unchecked violence on others eventually took the Archbishop’s life. The state funded funeral had more carnage with sharpshooter’s killing from the roofs and the resulting stampede killed others trying to seek sanctuary in the church on the square. Horrible.
Now we are listening to a recording of the final service. The death shot rings out, sounding like a canon, and it tears through me as completely as it did the first time. You hear the chaos before the recording abruptly stops.
Romero is crucified during a Sunday mass, standing at the altar.
Mary slides us in unison so I’m standing in an aisle looking at my own face and my friend sitting next to me. We have a look of disbelief on our face. It is sometime later in the service. I’m transfixed by the expression on my face.
Here you are…what is it that you call it? Your “mind space?” You’ve listened to Berto and the other speakers and you are learning about what actually happened.
Yes, that’s right.
My knowledge of what happened to Romero in El Salvador was spotty and conflated with the killings of a Jesuit priest and some nuns and missionaries. This in a country that is rife with human rights abuses. I felt responsible, sickened but not shocked to learn of the role of the U.S. in all of this. It’s actually the reason I came in the first place. I needed to know.
When you are listening with your mind, it is good. It's good to learn or try to understand why things happen as they do. But this is not how you grieve. Grieving occurs in the body.
As I’m listening to Mary, I watch my face and demeanor fold in on itself. I see the same with my friend. I que into what is happening in the background: it's the end of the night and Berto is leading the group with a prayer.
This is where you listen with your heart.
I watch myself literally choke up. A tear drops as I see myself finally taking in the tragedy and feeling my emotions. My face falls at the same time I watch my head drop, as I watch myself whimper and grieve. For a moment, it strikes me as beautiful.
We are back at the garden. My perspective shifts and I look to my right. Mary is still looking into her lap. She is transfixed by something.
It was hard, that day.
In my mind’s eye, I begin to see flashes. I see something torn, flapping in the wind. It’s a red dirty fabric and then I see Mary at the foot of the cross. I am moving in from above. I am at the crucifixion.
She is looking up at Jesus. Her eyes are full but she’s not crying. Her face is sweaty and dirty. She had been crying, I see the trails, and her right hand is at her mouth, as if she was trying to suck one of her knuckles. There are so many emotions on her face, her forehead creased with concern. Or maybe confusion.
The scene pans out. I see a Roman soldier talking to another one left of the cross, not far away. He appears bored and a bit annoyed. There are a two (?) other women and a man is a few feet down on the left. It’s an arid, cloudy and dry day.
But all of this is in my peripheral vision; I’m just staring at Mary.
Mary, still face down:
I just was there trying to understand it. Not just the crucifixion. All of it. I just…if crying would have helped, I would have cried more, but I didn’t know what to do for him. I didn’t know. I was thinking about him, all of the places we went. The stories he told. The way he moved people.
I sat next to her. I was as still as I could be. I didn’t want to breathe. I moved a thin lock of her hair over her left shoulder and placed my right hand gently on her left. She slowly lifted her head up and looked over at me. She had that Mona Lisa smile on.
You are practicing radical love?
I do my best to turn the corners of my mouth up a bit and try to nod.
Mary, looking off in the distance again:
There are some things we aren’t meant to understand. At the time. We just need to go through them. Be there. No matter how difficult.
I nod again.
A few minutes pass. I think about grief. How difficult it can be to actually let your body take in and open up to the emotion of it. I remembered sitting in that chair after the prayer at the service and thanking the person who requested the prayer. I was in a bit of a stupor. I just said to him, "That was good."
Prayer always does that. The salve for a wound. But Mary…
I looked again at Mary. What a large wound. I put my hand lightly on her shoulder and the chime marked the end of the meditation. The vision vanishes.
When I slowly rise up from my meditation mat, a tear rains down my right cheek. A tear for Mary.
· When you think of a modern day crucifixion, what comes to your mind?
· Spend a few minutes thinking about how this makes you feel. Are you able to grieve?