It’s Holy Week, and I’m seeing auras. Along my street, a swirl of flowering branches and late afternoon sun scorches all of us with beauty. We look more ourselves, more saturated, and more secure than we normally do. Each surface holds a little more light, or gives it.
Indoors, we’re all a little shell-shocked. The light from the computer screen fizzles in my eyeballs, which means my blood sugar’s low. I feel anemic. And I’m tense. Around the world, the adults are either dying, writhing in their death throes, or trying to convince themselves they’ll last forever. Most of the adolescents are, too. And a few of the children. The ferry sinks; the kid in Pennsylvania brings a knife to school; the landslides slide right through towns and yards and homes. More stuff happens — and keeps happening — than it would be charitable to mention in detail. Much of it happens personally, to persons by other persons.
Everything’s busted up and broken, and I’m thinking about it while I document all the conversations I had at work today. Tap tap tap, flicker flicker, tap tap. The fluorescence buzzes down the hall. More auras, possibly a migraine rolling in. Maybe I have PTSD? The thought hasn’t occurred to me seriously until today, and I start ticking off the categories in my mind: have brushed up against death at least once, have re-experienced that moment or moments, have avoided reminders of it, have experienced negatively altered thoughts or mood, and have noted a difference in reactivity/arousal. Check, check, check, check, and check.
Huh. I guess I have it or have had it. I grab my Nalgene and walk out back on the loading dock, where I can get another hit of that feral beauty. The light’s so different here, no wonder my vision freaks out. My brain replays the faces of all the people I’m currently worried about. Out of the corners of my eyes, wherever I’m not really looking, I can sense the trees exploding in slow-motion into blossoms. Petals drift around the dumpsters and along ditches. Deep breaths. Maybe I’ll make toast with almond butter, later.
This week always surprises me. It’s a bit of a gut-check for all of my busyness and hubbub, for the daily grind. The gut always says the same: “Yeah, not real. Or at least not important. You’re missing what’s real.” The card castle falls down in a slippery heap; the shine slides off all the apples in the bowl; the joke falls flat. And suddenly I feel like all my skin’s been peeled off and I’ve been opened up to the suffering of the entire human race. The days before Easter generally do that to me every time, and each year I find a few more wrinkles. My roots reach out another inch, feeling for water that isn’t there. My branches bud slowly, if at all. I find myself chiefly called to witness, not to act; be still and know.
But the contrasts disorient my watching mind. I sometimes find myself humming, even whistling, along the path between tragedies. I walk inside and read by email that a friend has passed. I walk outside again and the trees are singing. Inside, the computer waits with detailed trauma histories and incident reports. Outside, the heavens have cleared completely and deepen into purple. My vision blurs. How can all of it be true?
I find refuge in the religious pageantry of Holy Week. Huddles of believers cry together and pray. I can sit in the back and think, while a congregation shuffles through several old songs. I notice the shift in our collective mood when the sun comes out and makes the stained glass glow. And then someone cries out; we shift again, concerned, and pray. Christian people pray on Palm Sunday, a nervous happiness fraught with anxiety, telling their hopes and confessing their ignorances. They pray again each day of the week, sorrowing particularly on Thursday, and reeling on Friday. At one with all the wincing world. They hold their breaths on Saturday, afraid but praying still. All these triggers, all these pats and there-theres and hugging one another, all these profound realities rolling underneath us like deep-sea creatures — prayer seems as appropriate as anything else.
And then comes Sunday. Sunday they feast and pray, and sing and pray, and laugh and pray. My one friend who has had an extra difficult week will celebrate her birth on Sunday. My congregation will be sad and hurting for its own reasons on Sunday, but we will also share food and pray and sing. After a week of contemplating the arrest and torture of the Christ, the faithful will wear silk and linen. The skies, they say, will be fair. My brain — my poor, mixed-up brain — will most likely throw up its hands on Sunday, confused at all this tragic beauty.
The sense of victory will be especially hard to comprehend; I know that. Each year it gets harder and harder to understand, but each year it comes through more and more.