Rachel Weeping

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18

The first lie I remember learning, being forced to tell, is that I had no baby brother. I barely remember it. I remember being very, very scared. All the grown ups were running around, screaming, shouting, crying. There were horses, lots of horses, in the streets of Bethlehem. And soldiers. Soldiers going in and out of the houses.

I remember my mother hurting me, hurting me because she was grabbing my shoulders so hard. Grabbing my shoulders and shaking me and crying and crying. She made me say it again and again. My baby brother died. My baby brother is dead. I don’t have a baby brother.
And I didn’t. I had a baby brother before that day. I remember looking at him, I remember stroking his soft hair, much softer than the turtle dove. I remember watching my mother feed him and how I wanted her to feed me that way. I remember I wanted to be the one she held and stroked and sang to while her nipple was in his mouth. I remember wishing he would disappear so she would hold me that way.

And then he disappeared.

At first, I asked about him but I was always told to hush, that he had died and that was an end to it. So I stopped asking. But I never stopped wondering.
My mother was always sad after that. Even after my brother Joshua was born a few years later. And then my sister, Sarah. I tried to remember what my baby brother’s name was. I tried to ask, but I was told he didn’t have a name, he had died at birth.

I didn’t even know that I was being taught to lie. I thought I had wanted him not to be and so he wasn’t. I thought I was the reason that my baby brother died and my mother was always sad. So I was very careful when Joshua and Sarah were born. I kept away from them. I tried not to think about them or look at them at all.
Ah, well, that was so many years ago. Now I live in Nain and I sit, waiting, waiting again for that unwelcome visitor. It should be an old friend by now, so many times has it visited. First my mother, then my father, my brother, my husband, and now my son. Soon death will come again and when he leaves, I will stay but my son will go with him.

I went to see that new prophet, the one they say can heal the sick. They say he’s from near here, from Nazareth. He travels the country with his companions, teaching and healing. I thought I would ask him, beg him, to heal my son. So I went to see him. He was sitting on a hillside. I looked at the men and women around him. Since he’s from Nazareth, I thought I might know one of his companions. Someone who could introduce me, plead with me for my son. I looked at them, one by one, until my heart lurched. One of the youngest men looked just like my brother Joshua, like my father. He looked to be the right age, the age of those babies when I was four. Those babies who were all killed. All killed when my mother taught me that my baby brother had never lived.

I just stood and stared. The man who might be, must be my brother saw me staring and smiled a questioning smile. The man they call a prophet saw me and smiled a gentle sad smile. He motioned for me to come but I fled back home in tears.

Maybe tomorrow, tomorrow if I am not walking with that ugly visitor behind my only son’s body, maybe tomorrow I will go back. I have two questions in my heart now. One for the prophet and one for his companion.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:11-15

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The Other Side of the Parable

(The gospel reading today was Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the generous vineyard owner. As I listened to the Lector reading the parable, another story came to life in my head.)

I wake late, as usual, and reluctantly. And with a splitting headache, also as usual. And a dry mouth. And a foggy memory of the night before. How many beers? How many shooters?

Damn those sounds from the kitchen – my noisy, needy family at breakfast, clattering and squabbling. Soon, soon, Joy will be off to work and the kids to school and the world will be ignorable again.

Did I drive home? What time did I get home? She will be mad again. Please God, let her just leave without a lecture. I am so goddam tired of her lectures, so tired of promises, so tired of trying.

I like to drink. I need to drink. Goddammit, I need to relax after work, I need to be with men who like to drink.

Footsteps coming down the hall. I pull the covers up, turn on my side, close my eyes. Do not respond as she opens the door and calls my name. Do not respond to her loud sigh. Do not respond as she shuts the bedroom door, just short of a slam.

Much later I wake again, pull on boxer shorts and lurch to the kitchen to grab a can of beer, some bread and baloney from the fridge. To the family room for some channel surfing.

Early afternoon, I get dressed. Why shower when I am going out to try to get work? I’ll just get dirty; showering can be done tonight.

I get to the work center without really focusing once on anything much. Stand around, smoking and exchanging nods, the occasional half wave, the even less frequent few words, with the other men.

Then, just as I am about to head back home, grateful and ashamed to have spent another day not working, already rehearsing the story for Joy, some guy pulls up in a big van and hires a bunch of us to work in his fields for an hour.

Lots of men are already working; some have been working in those hot fields all day. Incredibly, at the end of the day, the end of just an hour’s work for me, everyone gets paid the same.

Man, were those who had been working all day pissed! “What kind of shit is this? We busted our balls in your fields all day and you give these jerks, these one-hour wonders, the same pay?”

The guy who hired us didn’t give a shit about their complaining. “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”*

What a windfall for me! I start home, but with all that money, much more than I counted on, I realize I have enough for a few drinks and then some. I put $20 for drinks in my right pocket and the rest, for Joy and the family, in my left pocket. Just a few drinks, then home. Maybe we’ll take the kids to Mickey Ds for dinner.

The next day I wake late, as usual, and reluctantly. And with a splitting headache, also as usual. And a dry mouth. And a foggy memory of the night before. How many beers? How many shooters?

There was no money for Joy and the family. There were no more chances. Joy left and took the kids.

That was twelve years ago. It’s taken me twelve years, twelve years to stop blaming that generous man for giving me so much money for an hour’s work. Twelve years to stop being envious of everything and everyone.

Twelve years to get here. “Hello, my name is Gary and I’m an alcoholic.”


*Matthew 20:13-15

An Allegory, or Parable

Once upon a time there were 12 people in a room. This room was very beautiful with large windows on every wall. Now it happened that 10 of the 12 people were blind which was sad because they could not experience the full beauty of the room. On this cloudless summer day deep in the South, as the sun climbed ever higher in the sky, the room grew brighter and brighter. The two people who were not blind said to the others, “We want to pull down the shades because the bright sun is hurting our eyes.” But the ten blind people said, “The sun is not hurting our eyes. We don’t understand what you mean. We don’t know what bright is.” And the blind people and the sighted people fought and it was sad.

My own parable

As I prayed through Psalm 86 this morning, making it personal in my usual way, an image came to mind that made me laugh at my own greediness. I imagined myself drowning in a rough sea. Like Peter, I was sinking beneath the waves. But a woman in a boat threw me a lifeline and hauled me in. She saved me. I was so grateful. I thanked her again and again.

We got to shore. I went home. I dried off. I loved telling the story of how I almost drowned, how I had swam out too far in water too deep, too rough for me. But I didn’t drown because this wonderful woman saved me. She was there, she used her boat, her lifeline, her strength to save me. I loved telling that story.

Then, one day, I needed money and so I went to the woman who had saved me and asked her for money. Another day I had problems at work and so I went to the woman who had saved me and asked her to fix those problems for me. Another time I had made some of my family angry with me so I went to the woman who had saved me and asked her to get them to not be angry with me anymore. When I realized I didn’t like myself very much, I went to the woman who had saved me and told her that since she had saved me, it was her responsibility, her duty, to make me better.

I made the woman who had saved me once responsible for my whole life, for making everything right, for making everything better.

What a totally absurd story. That poor woman who had saved me would have had to join the Witness Protection Program — the Savior Protection Program.

Fortunately for me, God is not human; She doesn’t care if I am being absurd. She is willing to help me every single time. Still, I do feel that perhaps I could be just a bit more reasonable in my expectations.