I have no idea why I'm sharing this story tonight. It's kind of weird and very long but I just feel kind of compelled to post it. I wrote it some time ago and I'm fond of it, though after I wrote it, I discovered that Joseph died years before. Still, it's what I imagine he might have felt.... Maybe I share it because it's about love and grief and hate and fear and disappointment - right now in the world the last four seem to be winning over love.
Katherine E. Rabenau
He was such a glorious child, my son Jesus. From the beginning, I knew he was really special. There was such a sweetness in him - and smart! - my God, you wouldn't believe the things he came out with. But still in all, he was a regular little boy for all his wise and quiet ways. And, oh, how I loved him! A gift he had, too, for the carpentry trade. He could touch the heart of a piece of wood like he could the hearts of people. He somehow saw the core, the beauty, and drew it out of them. It was extraordinary.
But, child of God or not, he was my son too. And in the end I failed him. I tried. Lord knows, I tried to do right by him, to protect him, but he was so sure, so certain about God and truth, so determined to share what he knew. He wanted to light up the world, to bring peace to people's hearts. And look what it got him. What it got all of us. Him lying in a tomb and my sweet Mary crazy with grief. His brothers and sisters, frightened and angry and lost, maybe in danger too. And such an ugly death. Bad enough to crucify him, but they had to shame him too, my gentle son who only talked of love.
Such faith he had. He worked so hard to do the job right that his God and his mother set out for him. But he was my son too, God's or not. It was me that fed and raised him, me that taught him about life. He was, after all, born a child. He only grew into sainthood. The God in him may have been God's, but the human child was mine. I watched him grow and struggle to figure out who he was and what this Messiah thing meant. And the human in him was strong, even though the God half was stronger. He had his mother's looks, you know. Especially around the eyes and mouth. Had something of her spirit too - stubborn, determined, passionate about her beliefs. He was her son all right, more so than any of the others. Maybe that's why I loved him so.
But what kind of God does that to a woman? Gives her such a child and then lets him be ripped from her, tortured, maligned - and not a word of comfort in her ear, not a finger lifted to protect this life He created. What kind of God, what kind of Father?
But then who am I to talk? What kind of man am I who just stood by and did nothing? I watched it, you know. Every second of it. I remember every twitch and grimace, every tear and every drop of blood, every sigh, the gentle look that even then never left his eyes. I told everyone I wouldn't go, but I was there. I couldn't believe the depravity of it. How they turned on him, who had always been so kind and caring, and as always, he bore it with such grace. Even as a kid, he'd say, "They don't mean it, Dad." What was it they say he said at the end? "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Like Hell I'll forgive them. They knew. They knew exactly what they were doing and I don't forgive any of them. And I don't forgive God, either. What did Mary and I do to deserve this? Our oldest - our sweetest boy. . . And such a death. . .
And then there was the big light show after. Sky turns black. What good is that? Is my Jesus any less dead? Is his suffering erased because this empty God makes a big light show? You're God! He was Your son! Bad enough that I failed him, but You? How could You have let him suffer like that? How could You have let his struggle and his passion and his efforts be for this! This stupid, ugly, obscene pagaent in which he dies and suffers and we, the parents into whose care you gave him, are left with nothing but emptiness.
And for him, of all people, to suffer so. Even when he was small, he hated to see anyone suffer. We used to tease him 'cause he was always protecting and nursing any wounded creatures, always giving away his toys, his food. He'd see some child with hungry eyes looking at him and "Here," he'd say, "I'm just so full, I couldn't eat another bite." Once when I scolded him about how I didn't want to hear any complaints later about him being hungry, he just looked at me with those eyes of his and said, "But didn't it just nourish your heart to see his face when I gave it to him?" Made me kind of ashamed of my own stinginess. But he never judged the rest of us for who we were, never was on some high horse about his goodness. That's how I knew it was real. He never realized he was special. He just was. Generous to the core of his being. That's how I knew, finally, that he really was who Mary said he was. Knowing my son that way actually made me feel a lot better about God Almighty. If this was His child, well, maybe He really did love us. More's the fool, me. All that gentleness he must have gotten from his mother. And God is, after all, an indifferent spirit who cares only for cruelty and suffering and destruction. His own son! This was His own son!
I will never forgive You, God, for all that my son loved You. If You had loved him, You would not have let this happen. If You loved any of us . . .
When they were wrapping him for the grave, they took that monstrous thing off his head, his poor bleeding head. That sweet face so cut and caked with blood and still that innocent softness. Not that he was weak. He was never weak. Stronger than any man I ever knew, in fact. Just strong in a different kind of way. So odd, even brutalized as he was, he looked like a sleeping angel. I've always thought these crucifixions were obscene, but then to have it be my own beloved son whose flesh is so torn and scarred and . . .
The crown is mine now. I wear it as penance for my failure, as a gesture of solidarity with my son. It's meant to make me suffer, but this torn flesh is nothing to the agony that is my heart and mind. I trusted God to let him be all right and I did nothing. I should have pleaded with them or cut him down or killed him quick. But I thought surely God would intervene. I thought... I don't know what I thought. I thought it couldn't happen. I kept waiting for it to stop. But it never did.
I should have stopped him long ago. I was his father. But always there was this talk about God and God loving His children and he was so convincing I believed it. I believed that nothing could touch him. And oh, how the people and the children ran after him. Just to touch him, some of them, to feel his goodness. And then, that day, I saw them, some of those same people, throwing rocks with the lowest of them. And his face, never losing that sweet sort of pitying look it sometimes got. "They're just afraid," he'd say. "Not mean, really, just scared." Well, their fear killed him and I don't find it excusable.
How can you be dead, boy? How can you have let this happen? How can I have let it happen? I should have done more. I should have found a way. I should have let you know I was there. I didn't think He'd let it happen, son. Didn't you tell me He loved you? Didn't you tell me He was a Father to us all? Would a father sit by and watch?
But I did. I thought it was His job, but it must have been mine and now you're gone and I can't tell you all the things that are in my heart. How much I loved you and how proud I was of you and your strange ways, even if I didn't entirely approve of everything you did. Still, I knew you were special. I'm sorry, son, that I failed you. Sorry you went through all this alone. I didn't know how to stop it. And I really did think He would do it, you know . . . protect you. I can't believe it yet and I can't erase your face, the look of you - in such agony, and still so pure and good - I can't erase it from my heart. It's burned into my soul, son. The horror of it sears into me with every breath. And I did nothing. I just watched and waited for the miracle I thought would happen. Mary said you were God's son, didn't she? And you did too. But of course, she told you over and over from the day you were born. What else could you think? But watching you, I believed it too.
And now I don't know what to think. Either way, I failed and you are dead and gone and all of us who loved you torn to shreds with grief and loss. But you see, son, we - or I guess I shouldn't speak for others, I should say "I" - I didn't just lose you, I lost everything. Your mother, my hope, my faith in God. Especially my faith. And without that, what is there to hope for? Gentler tyrants and a quick and easy death? Oh, my child, this bitterness is unbearable. I wear your thorns, son, and wish for death. And for your forgiveness. I wish most for your forgiveness. Whoever else you were, you were my first-born child and I loved you. I hope you know that.
There's talk now that you rose from the grave and came back to life. I don't know that I'd wish that on you, son. More life in a God-less world. I just hope you're at peace and out of harms way for good. You were a fine man, a son to be proud of, and I just hope you know that. Thing is, I asked for your forgiveness, but I know you. You forgave me long ago. It's just I don't know how to forgive myself. I wish you were here and I could talk to you. You'd probably know just what to say to put my mind at ease. But of course you aren't.
There is no comfort left for me. Only this ring of thorns to remember you by and this bitter loneliness.
I try to live up to your example, boy. To do some kindness when I can, ease suffering whenever I see it. But mostly I wish for death and the serenity of the grave. Mostly I wish to forget what I saw that day at Golgotha, but somehow I doubt I ever will. If you have risen, look after your mother, boy. She took it awful hard too. I can't face her. What must she think of me, that I could let this happen to you? She's a good woman. Stubborn, but kinder and gentler than most. Look after her if you can. I'll see that she's cared for, but I'll never face her again. The only grief harder to bear than my own is what I saw in her eyes that day. God and I have used her pretty badly. I don't know what more to say. “I'm sorry” isn't enough and yet it's all there is. Maybe there was no stopping it, but still, I should have tried.
Some things I'm grateful for today:
- Punny Monday
- my nieces and nephew
- laughter (Craig Fergeson tonight)
- my home
- Dr. Jim