March 20, 2008
On some days I have to remind myself that even if I am left totally alone, it does not make me worthless. When your heart pounds out of your chest with the force of an out-of-control Mack truck and you are certain that every drop of blood that once coursed through your veins is now flooding into your brain, which suddenly feels like it has sunk to your feet — and the frantic breaths that you gulp at like a fish out of water come like sharpened steel knives into the most tender recesses that hold all of your hopes and dreams and you wonder if it had all been a lovely delusion — and then between the heaving sobs that pour like a hidden ocean from your eyes, you can only rock yourself back and forth, a motherless infant exposed in the cruel wilderness of heartbreak — then the truly dark thoughts pour into the emptiness that once held your heart: the people who love you aren't going to be there for you in your pain; you'll have to face it alone, feel it alone and you even pray for death because surviving this pain seems like a more gruesome fate by far.
I know that this is a universal experience, and I believe that it is the root of all fear: that we are not good enough and not loved and will be left alone: to feel our pain, and to die.
It stuns me whenever I'm in pain or spiritual turmoil and instead of comfort, I am offered solitude. It's human nature, I know, to run from other people's pain, though we know in our deepest soul that no one ever wants to be alone at such a time. It's very brave to stay there with someone. At times in my life I have experienced all of these roles: betrayer, betrayed, and friend who has both stayed, and run.
Holy Thursday is my favorite "holiday" for this reason. After pouring out all the love he had within him, breaking bread and sharing the cup, then bending to wash the feet of his cherished disciples, Jesus fully experienced all of this human aloneness, abandonment and betrayal. There is nothing more universally human — and in this shared experience lies the opportunity for empathy. Think of Jesus, in spiritual agony literally begging for the cup to be passed from him — yet not my will be done. And where were his friends? Asleep. They couldn't even stay with him for an hour, though he begged for their comfort. When Jesus was arrested, the sheep scattered and Peter himself denied Jesus three times. Betrayed by his closest friends and abandoned in his suffering — only the women of Jerusalem were brave enough to walk with him to Golgotha and stay at his feet, witnessing what must have been unspeakable violence and suffering. So complete was his suffering that he cried out in his last breaths: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
I will likely find myself in tears tonight, as I stay for a time at the foot of the cross, as is my usual practice — wishing I identified most strongly with the women of Jerusalem who stayed, but knowing that I contain in nearly equal parts all of the players of the Passion. I am Jesus, who in a time of suffering, feels totally abandoned and betrayed; I am Judas, who through my own actions betray those who love me with my lack of trust; I am Peter, so consumed by fear that he only knows how to run; I am Simon, who at times has bent to carry the burdens of friends, even to my own detriment; I am Veronica, whose simple kindness in wiping the brow of Jesus teaches me that there is always an opportunity to express empathy; and I am Joseph of Arimathea who would rather attend to things after the fact and not get into the messy horror of it all.