I stood there, in the great darkness, still making out the shape of the terrible cross and the shape of my son, my precious, precious son, hanging there. I couldn’t see it all the time of course. Tears have a merciful way of blurring our sight. But there are some things love does not allow us to turn away from, some places that love insists we stay, because sometimes our presence, and the mute witness of our grief, is the only thing we have left to give.
It was a long time ago that the ancient prophet had spoken to me, beholding my newborn son, but his words had been fixed in my heart, and now I tasted their full awfulness, like I was drinking down wormwood and gall. “And a sword shall pierce your heart, yours also”, he had said. I had not realised that this was what he meant, I had thought it fulfilled in the ordinary pinpricks of life, the growing pains of seeing your child go in ways you had never expected (though why I had ever thought a carpenter’s shop would be enough for this miraculously wrought child seems a great foolishness to me now!) But now I knew that sword, sharp as a Roman gladius, had stabbed into my vital organs, and twisted them into excruciating agony. The least I could do was stand there and keep watch, that terrible afternoon, in a place beyond courage, where only love could hold me there.
I remembered other afternoons, woven of sunshine (had the sun now vanished forever?), the texture and shape of the life we had shared together – those early years in Egypt, when nothing but the pangs of exile had shadowed our lives, the return to Nazareth and the ordinary years (apart from the odd incident when he had stayed behind in the temple when he was twelve – a foreshadowing of the day when he would go forth into the world). There was the wedding in Cana, and the afternoon when I saw him do his first miracle, the water became wine, and nothing in the world was ever quite the same again. I remember the crowds that gathered to his teaching, and the endless, endless parade of the sick and the broken who came to him for healing. None of them were here now except the women who stood with me, and John, the only one of the men who remained. In the dreadful darkness we could count our number, and we were very few. There were no miracles that day, though I had half expected there would be, only the bitterness of all our hope being laid down in the grave. How could this possibly be God’s plan?
And there was silence, and there was darkness, and he cried his last, and all I had left to give my beloved son was a grave borrowed from a generous stranger. I discovered then that there is a place beyond pain where one has almost ceased to be human, and there, as it was, I pitched my tent.