Our school yard was confined within a cast-iron fence and as if metal spikes were not good enough, the builders had planted thorny shrubs, which reached fifteen feet high and carried two-inch long needle-sharp thorns. The shrubs bore red berries with soft white bones, and we used to gnaw on those berries during winter. I still remember the tangy taste of those over-ripened and half-frozen berries. But this piece is not about the berries. It is about the thorns.
In spring the School attendant usually trimmed the shrubs into a hedge, so the clipped twigs with thorns were covering the ground, the cobblestone walkways and even the street outside. And this was fun, because it was easy for us with our adolescent imagination to pick up those twigs and braid them into thorny wreaths. The best, most vicious wreath was placed on the head of my friend Gah-Notzri. And so we walked him to the Subway, Wishing to occasional passers-by Happy Easter.
It was, of course, a joke on a margin of a blasphemy, but for us young fools, it was also a bit of imitation. We were acting like monkeys, we were learning.
Now, when I think about it, I can’t get away from thinking about the Real Thing, about humiliation, scourging, beatings, more humiliation, and finally His painful walk along Via Dolorosa to His Crucifixion. What a devious, even demonic murder it was - the crucifixion. The body hangs on the cross. All body weight is hefted against the diaphragm, arresting its motion. No one can give it up – we ought to breathe, it is programmed in us by instinct and by our animal nature. So the only way to fight the asphyxiation is to pull up on the nails in the wrists and to push off from the nails in the feet. And the nails are placed right in the nervous centers, so every next breath is earned in the agony of excruciating pain. What kind of culture comes up with such a punishment? And is it really a culture? There must be another word for it, culture just sounds too good for that, unless we are talking about a culture of bacteria in a Petri dish, like Yersinia Pestis. Rome is a pestilence, even Mongols, with all their wild rage and ingenuity, couldn't invent anything that cruel. They would sew victim in a wool blanket, tie the blanket to the horse and run him or her some distance and then cast whatever was left into the river. Romans were worse than Golden Horde. And, after all, by which authority man is taking the other man’s life? It doesn’t matter how righteous the punisher is, it doesn’t matter how bad the punished is: a murder is a murder. But, I guess, I’ve become sidetracked.
In His passion everything was real: the crown, the nails, the cross. In our lives everything is a metaphor. Like: she carries her cross with patience. Or, they finally nailed him. Or even, the old tradition was resurrected by diligent blahblah-blah. And, if we are going to discount the instrument of torture down to a metaphor, then what is it for us? I am talking about the crown of thorns here. I guess, it is an individual thing. For me this crown of thorns is a burden of painful memories, when each thorn carries a question. Like: why? And: what for? And what have I done to deserve it? Time doesn’t heal squat. The scab is gone, the scar tissue is formed in layers, but it still hurts deep inside the soul. For Him the torture was external, for us it will be always within. And nothing we can do about it, but, just as He taught, we have to give each other love and forgiveness, and keep breathing no matter what.
Happy holidays to y'all!
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