I woke up early, which isn’t like me.
Insomnia is another symptom I struggle with. I tend to stay up til three or five, worrying, most nights. It’s hard for me to get up before ten. But this morning, I woke up at eight. I came downstairs humming Good Friday hymns. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
The Good Friday liturgy is my favorite liturgy of the year, but of course I wouldn’t be going to one. Not during the lockdown.
I checked the daily numbers, which is something I do daily now the way some people check the weather forecast. Thirty-two new COVID deaths reported since midnight Greenwich Mean Time, according to the meter I follow. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
I prayed matins and drank coffee, putting off that fast day Small Meal.
I knew we needed a few groceries ahead of Sunday’s blessed feast, so I ventured to try InstaCart. But InstaCart wasn’t even taking new orders. I steeled myself to hop on the very first bus but missed it. They’re on such an odd schedule since the lockdown began: two buses, one following the other, because it’s now illegal to have more than ten people in a bus. They snake up through LaBelle and then all the way to Wintersville and back downtown, once to Mingo, then back up here to LaBelle. If you miss it, you’re trapped for two hours at least.
I sat back down, and checked the numbers: seventy-three dead. I assume they wait to report the night’s dead until sometime in the late morning, because there’s always a jump toward noon. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
I went back to bed and woke up again. Rosie was fast asleep next to me– she wants company in these terrifying times, and I don’t blame her.
Michael took over breakfast and setting Rose up with some cartoons so I could leave.
Of course I checked the count again before I went to the bus stop, and there was the jump: three hundred thirty-six dead. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
The wind blew my bandanna off of my mouth as I ran to catch the bus. I crammed it back over my face as I boarded– the driver was in a respirator and gloves, and half the passengers were masked. And even though there were two buses, it was still impossible to sit six feet apart.
I know they do their best to clean the buses every night, but it still feels like riding in a can of germs.
An Aldi employee in gloves and a respirator was stationed by the carts, carefully cleaning each one with a plastic spray bottle. I was shivering in my winter coat and she was not in her hoodie. She was pleasant, conversational, helpful; somehow she acted like she’s been doing this every day for years. I thought of Martha the sister of Lazarus– or of Mary anointing Christ, as the smell of antiseptic filled the air.
Shopping was scattershot, as shopping always is now. They were limiting quantities of plain white eggs, but I could have all the brown eggs I wanted. Wheat flour was gone, but not gluten free cake mix. They were sold out of ordinary roasting chickens but the freezer was fully stocked with Easter legs of lamb that cost three times as much. I found myself drastically upgrading plans for Easter Dinner– and then I nearly bumped into someone, and panicked, as we do now. Touching people could kill them now.
I came home and checked the numbers. 963 deaths. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.
I saw people claiming that, since the total projections are “only” predicting sixty thousand deaths in America, that means that COVID was all a hoax. They don’t think that sixty thousand deaths in spite of all our hard work to prevent contagion is a tragedy; they think that this number is far too little to justify people not going to work and driving up the stock market. Sixty thousand human lives don’t matter at all, to some people. They just want money. Thirty pieces of silver for thousands of preventable deaths.
We are not becoming a more compassionate world. We are becoming people who scoff at thousands of preventable deaths, when there is money to be made. And there’s nothing I can do about that.
We watched a Good Friday liturgy on a livestream. We sang along with the responsories. We kissed a crucifix from my icon corner. Let us kneel. Let us stand. Let us kneel. Let us stand. Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
I shut off the livestream and checked the numbers again. 1360.
Rosie and I were doing our own livestream, over on the Facebook page— prayers and hymns I especially love for Good Friday, in a Tenebrae style. We didn’t have enough candles, so we started taking icons out of the display. First Gabriel, then Michael, then Mary, then Jesus, last of all the cross. Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb? Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.
My people, my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me. Agios o Theos, agios ischyros, Agios athanatos, eleison imas. Holy God. Holy and Mighty. Holy and immortal one, have mercy on us.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Over two thousand people died in agony on Good Friday, in this country alone, without family present to comfort them or say goodbye, without extreme unction, too weak to suck water from a sponge, gasping and choking until they couldn’t draw another breath with or without the help of machines. They are stacking the bodies in refrigerated trucks. They are digging mass graves. People are scoffing at the dead and demanding to get back to making money. It’s been going on so long that I’m all out of trauma to feel and I only feel this numb, dull, dissociated horror.
I could not be with them.
I could not make it stop.
I was not there when they crucified my Lord.
I was not there when they nailed Him to the tree.
I was not there when His mother and beloved friend stood at the foot of the cross, unable to comfort Him, unable to touch Him, so they might as well have been miles away. I was not there when He asphyxiated, hung by dislocated arms, naked, scourged, bones exposed, pain unimaginable, parched with impossible thirst.
I was not there, and so He had to come to me. In every death, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is crucified. In every suffering He suffers. In every hasty mass grave He is also buried quickly, to get Him out of the way before the sabbath. In every sharp trauma and every dull, dissociated horror, the One Who is eternal Bliss is broken and afraid. This is what I believe. This places on me the solemn command to attend Him and ease His suffering wherever I can– and that’s torture, right now, because I can’t. It also gives me hope, because no suffering is without meaning.
The hope is not the kind of hope that brings a sense of consolation, not yet. It’s a different kind– the hope of Good Friday, when the earth goes dark and the thunderclap sounds. The hope with which you lay the Lord in the tomb and go to keep the Sabbath according to the command.
After the Sabbath, early in the morning on the first day of the week, starts a different kind of hope. But we are not there yet.
Sometimes it causes me to tremble.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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