AS WE ARE ONE
It is Friday evening. The small girl knelt before the tabernacle to pray. She took out her Rosary, and loosened the white scarf that was around her head. Letting it drape loosely she began, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth. I believe in his only Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. . . ” As she prayed, she thought of each part of the prayer. The Rosary is a mental, as much as a verbal prayer. The repetition of the little prayers put her into the meditative state she was familiar with. She began to feel a warm glow. The rosary beads started to feel silky as she worked them between her fingers.
“Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee. Blessed art Thou among women And blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now, and at the hour of our death.”
Again and again, slowly, imperceptibly, the petite young girl’s voice faded to a whisper, and then began to sound like small pouts. Then it was gone completely. Her eyes were fixed on the statue of the mother of Jesus, but her soul was not behind them.
She found herself in a crowded passageway. People were crowding in from every side. The air was cool, yet the putrid odors of a large city alleyway were hanging all about. All the shoving and excitement seemed to be centered somewhere down the alley from where she stood, and it was moving in her direction.
Two ancient soldiers were shoving people out of the way. They threatened with their swords, raising them above their heads, and waving them about. She could see that the swords were sharp and weighty. She was well aware that even a small blow from them would be serious. The crowd was appreciative of this, causing them to steer clear of the soldiers when the tempers appeared to flare.
These were hard men. They had hard eyes, and they needed a shave. They smelled like sweat. Their uniforms, if they could be called that, were dirty. Their helmets were not shiny and new, but used, very used. They were using a language that she could not understand. As the lead soldier came near her she recoiled, but he put his left hand out and shoved her backwards anyway, not so much that she was in his way, but he used the action to demonstrate his authority to the rest of the crowd. Mashing his hand into her nose and eyes, giving a squeeze as he
pushed, further showed his position of authority. His hand was dirty, too. She instinctively took her scarf and put it to her nose.
The crowd became very agitated and she saw other men coming up the alley, surrounded by soldiers. The soldiers around these men were shielding them from the crowd. She could tell that the crowd had mixed feelings, some appeared angry with the men, and others looked sympathetic. Each man had a huge crossbeam on his shoulders. She was stunned by the size of the beams. They weren’t smooth at all, but rough and splintery. Great grooves ran the length of the beams. Large iron rings were fastened to either end. Each of the three men was tied to these beams. As they approached she could see that the beam had rubbed their backs raw, down to the muscle. How the men stood the pain was beyond her. Just then the lead man tripped and fell. The force of his fall broke the ranks of the soldiers, and he crashed down at her feet, the weight of the beam forcing his face into the stone of the walkway. He left drops of blood on the stones where he fell. She looked down at him as he pulled himself up, resting his weight on one knee. He looked into her eyes. The soldier behind him started to raise his sword. She thought that perhaps he would strike her, but it didn’t matter. Looking into those eyes was the perfect time to die. He was in pain, but his eyes didn’t show it. They’d broken his nose, but she could tell that it had been an exquisite nose. His beard was full, but well kept. She could see it was saturated with blood, too. His hair hung down stringy, filled with blood and sweat. She could see that it extended a length down his back almost to his waist. They had put a “crown” on his head, a crown made of briars. It had cut into the flesh very deep. One cheek was smashed in. It was not the face of an intellectual. It was the face of a working man. Still, this description doesn’t do the face justice. She’d seen this face a thousand times, on road gangs, in homeless shelters, yet it was all of these, and none of these. With one look at the face she was sorry for everything she’d ever done. With the sight of the raised sword still at the edge of her field of vision, she raised the scarf in her hands and wiped the face.
He closed his eyes, and struggled to get up. With a great effort he raised himself to his feet, and began to stumble down the cobblestones with the soldiers all around him. She followed with the crowd. Near the wall he fell again. This time the soldiers had enough delay, and took the beam from his shoulders. The cuts were much worse than she’d thought. The cross beam had relentlessly bore down into the gaping wounds. As the men pulled the beam off his worn shoulders, torn flesh clung to it. The man winced, but did not cry out.
They grabbed a man from the crowd and pointed to the beam. Even though she couldn’t understand what was being said, she knew the man was being ordered to carry the beam for the prisoner who’d fell. He obviously didn’t want to, but the authority of the soldiers was clear. She could see that any refusal, any hesitation, might even put the beam on the man’s shoulders for real!
The crossbeam now repositioned, they all went through the outer wall at the perimeter of the city. They stumbled up a little rocky rise and some of the soldiers held the crowd back. The three prisoners were put on the ground. They were stripped down to a loincloth that each one had, and each was placed upon their respective beams. Leather bags were produced, and large hammers brought out. The men were stretched on the beams. While some soldiers held them down, another centurion would get a nail from the sack. Two of the men did not cooperate and one soldier struck one of them with the flat of his sword, knocking him unconscious. The nails were pressed into the wrists of each man, and driven all the way through into the beam with a single blow. The man, whose face she’d wiped, moaned a little. The other conscious man screamed something at the soldiers, and they slapped him.
When they were all firmly attached they were stood and ropes were run through the rings on the ends of the beams. The soldiers then threw the ropes over the tops of some upright posts that were situated on the little rise. Balancing the ropes so they would not fall to the side, they heaved each man onto a precut slot in his particular upright post, which was already firmly planted into the ground. Then a soldier went to each condemned man and put a single nail through his overlapping feet.
Then the guards threw all the possessions of the prisoners on the ground, then began to divide them up. She stood there with the others and looked up at the men on the crosses. This was not glorious, it was horrible! It was perhaps the most sickening sight she’d ever seen in her life! They were all straining against the nails in their feet to lift themselves up so they could breathe, and each effort to do so produced a moan, or a scream. With each beat of the heart the blood oozed from the wrists of the condemned, but she could tell that it was not from the loss of blood that death would come, but from the battle they were fighting for breath.
She could see some women on the far side of the rise, some crying and wringing their hands. One was on her knees. Tears streamed from her bright blue eyes, but she did not cry out. She kept her eyes directly on the man in the center. She breathed when he breathed. She shuddered when he shuddered. A young man was standing behind her with his hands resting on her shoulders. He was staring into the dying man’s face. The man on the center cross told him something, but she could not understand what it was. The man put his arms around the woman, then led her away down the rise.
Hours passed. During all this time there was no relief in the struggle to breathe. Every now and then one of the men would be still, perhaps hoping death would intervene, and end the agony, and one of the soldiers would go over and poke him with a spear, or sword until they screamed. Finally the man in the center cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani!”
The soldiers looked up. One walked over and got a long stick. He fixed a sponge onto it and dipped it into a clay jar of clear liquid. Walking over to the center cross he thrust the sponge into the man’s mouth!
At this point she folded the scarf used to dry the face, and placed it carefully into her pocket. Suddenly, she found herself back in the church with a bloody scarf.The Butcher Shop