— I was compelled to write this after reading detailed first person accounts of the events in Rwanda at the end of the 20th century. 20 centuries —
Noa watches as the knife performs its God ordained task, struggling to keep her anxiety in check. She reminds herself of her lifelong lessons, that she can trust God, even when she can’t begin to understand the reasons for such things. She pushes aside those questions and the anxiety, reminding herself that, whatever the reasons, every boy has to have this done. Holding to this assurance, that this is a common procedure, she focuses back on trying to soothe the little boy as he cries with the pain.
It is hard to endure seeing little Nathan cry; Noa feels like she will burst with emotions, her mother’s heart urging her to do something to help. The procedure is quickly over and a soothing balm applied. Nathan slowly calms down as Noa carries her precious boy back home.
Arriving at the home, she feels relief as Nathan drifts off to sleep. Noa sets out to prepare the evening meal, with some special items to celebrate this event. Not much, and certainly not up to the standards of those that have money. They would have all the expensive foods and lavish decorations out for the stream of society flowing through their door. But it will just be Noa and Aleph to celebrate this event. With Aleph’s family living far to the north, and her family gone, Noa is accustomed to celebrating the standard events with just her husband.
But such isolation is hard on Aleph. He puts so much emphasis on the blessings of this life. It is truly difficult for him, living down in these southern regions far from his family. He longs to be back among his family enjoying the laughter, bustle and belonging that comes with living in middle of an area completely immersed in his family’s history. Hopefully soon, Aleph can return home with his young bride. Now he will have his own son to lift up before his kin! What a great day that will be! This will surely propel his status back to valued son and redeem the impetuous folly that sent him south. A few more months and his obligations here will be complete.
The weeks pass, and Noa’s days are filled with the discoveries of caring for an infant. There are so many things to learn and long hours dealing with the helpless but precious child. The paradox of constantly cleaning up messes while feeling fierce defense of the honor of the boy. The pain of developing stronger arm muscles while carrying Nathan all day. The pain as the little boy suckles with too much strength in contrast to the almost overwhelming satisfaction that comes from the intense and pure connection to Nathan as he suckles from her breasts. The change in relations with Aleph, as now the new member of the family consumes most of the time. But overall, a feeling of purpose: Noa is a mother.
The world into which Nathan has come is difficult, but better than it has been in the past. Noa’s mother told her stories of the days of grandmother, living through time of great struggle and bloodshed. These days are more stable, with the local authorities working with the emperor’s government instead of fighting it. But it is still a world of sudden death. One must be careful to not cross the emperor’s men. But for Noa and her family, that is not of great concern. Noa and Aleph are not wealthy and are not involved in anything other that just trying to live quiet lives and keeping peace with God and his rules. The authorities do not have any interest in such people.
Around the time Aleph discovered her, Noa had heard of some strange stories in the area. A young woman having a baby while claiming to be a virgin. Noa thought that was a strange try to cover indiscretion, why not just find a rich old man anxious to have another young bride and say the baby is his? Blood on the sheets is easy. But the story of this woman was really strange in that some shepherds claimed they saw angels that said the baby is from God. There was some excitement in the area for a few weeks as people were hoping that this might be when something finally happens and God brings meaning to life. Like maybe the Messiah would finally come and make a great revolt against the emperor. But nothing happened and people found something else to talk about.
Noa herself gave little attention to the stories. She became very involved with Aleph and now there is Nathan. Noa is happy to be a mother, and a wife. An undefined sense of hope springs from the circumstances, making the regional events insignificant. It will all work out.
At the market one day, Noa gets caught up with all the latest gossip and news. Some say that some caravan has come in town. This would not be news by itself, caravans sometimes pass through town. But this caravan is not a merchant caravan, this one had strange religious men from somewhere far to the east. Some said they were from Babylon. One of the women has a brother who was pressed into slavery for the emperor’s governor, Herod. He heard these Babylonians tell Herod that they have been studying ancient prophecies for centuries and have realized that the fulfillment of the prophecies is now. Herod was very upset by the quest of the Babylonians.
Most of the women shrug it off as another crazy story. There are always crazy stories. Just struggling to live leaves little energy to worry about some prophecy from another country. The discussion shifts to the outrageous behavior of Ruth’s husband; she really carries a burden being married to that man.
The next week at the market, the woman with the brother slaving for Herod has more to the story. The Babylonians have left. Herod is really upset about something. This causes some of the women to start predicting that bad things will happen: something bad always happens when Herod is upset.
Noa hears the concern, but she reminds herself of the promises of blessings from God for trying to live by the rules. God will protect her. Besides, what would her insignificant family mean to someone as powerful as Herod?
The next day there is more to the story. It is said that the Babylonians were looking for the baby born a while ago – the one that the shepherds talked about. This is odd indeed. Maybe there is something truly supernatural going on? Maybe this really is something from God? Noa does not know, but she feels the pull of believing that God actually does things, like in all the old stories she has heard since a child.
But the news turns ominous: the slave brother says that there are lots of fighting men being gathered at Herod’s palace, but no-one knows why.
The next day Aleph leaves to work, early as always. Noa cleans the clutter from morning meal. The sun is just making the day bright and the song birds begin to sing. Noa does love this time of day. She hears a faint noise, too distant to make out but it feels out of place with the pleasant morning sounds. The sound starts to swell, indistinct, but with a definite dark feel. Now Noa is able to hear feminine voices wailing over an underlying background of coarse male shouts. Something terrible is clearly happening over at the edge of town. Maybe some of the anti-emperor group have started another uprising. She immediately thinks of Nathan’s safety, but calms herself. She and Aleph have always been careful to express only allegiance to Herod and his superiors. Her family would not be on one of the lists of anti-emperor zealots. Her world is safe.
The cacophony is deeply disturbing. And it is getting closer.
Suddenly, a young man comes running up the street. He stops halfway, gasping for breath, and yells, telling everyone to run. Herod’s men are coming, he yells. And they are killing people. He yells “Run! Now!”
Then follows his own advice and runs.
Noa fights down the rising panic. Herod won’t be killing people that are not a threat to him. But she goes, picks up Nathan, then returns to the door, trying to decide what to do. “Dear God” she whispers “what is going on?”. The boy stirs, still sleeping, but resenting the intrusion.
The din has become very audible from many directions. Angry shouts, cries of pain, but above it all the unmistakable wail of women in ultimate agony of soul.
Noa feels the wails to the core of her being. She is no longer able to calm herself, She rushes to the inner room and hides behind the bed, clutching Nathan. Nathan awakens to the sensation of panic overwhelming him from his mother’s body and adds his voice to the cacophony from outside.
The male shouts are very loud now, commanding, cursing. Crashes, screams and moans complete the aural assault, fueling the panic overwhelming Noa.
As if in a surreal dream, she hears the door burst open, slaming against the wall. She huddles against the bed, Nathan’s small body pinned under hers. The pressure of his mother on him silences him, partly from the comfort of closeness, partly from difficulty breathing.
The outside din of the devil fades to a distant background as Noa’s focus is on listening for signs of the terror that fills the room.
Her breath is impossibly loud.
Where is Aleph? Maybe he will rush in and kill this unknown terror that fills the room.
Nathan gasps under the weight of his mother.
Rushed footsteps. Jerked backwards by her hair.
Noa finds herself staring up from the floor into the face of a young man she had seen before.
A flash of recognition in his eyes.
“I…” he starts, then looks down.
“Herod’s orders” he mumbles.
Another man bursts into the room, takes in the tableau.
“Quit f*ing around. Do your f*ing job, or your f*ing family will pay, as*ole”
The young man snatches Nathan out of her arms.
“No please” she whispers.
He hesitates, then dark resolve clouds his eyes and his sword swings.
The two halves of what was Nathan fall to the floor.
Noa gathers them to her breast, unaware of the nonstop wail she voices, aware only of the unmeasurable depth of pain that has become her reality.
no please no
By the time the news of the massacre reaches Aleph, the event is mostly over. Running through the streets, hope fades; on every street the wailing pierces his being. On some streets he sees men dead or dying, the ones who attempted to resist. He passes women lying along the streets, signs of struggle visible in their deaths. He knows what he will find before he even gets to his home.
The years have gone by. Noa reluctantly lives on, a very different woman than before the awful day. The brutal reality of the fragile nature of hope overwhelms the “normal” human dreams. Her pain made her impossible to love. The betrayal of hope made love impossible for her. Love depends on trust, how can one trust when at any moment the power of love can be turned like a blade to pierce the heart that wields it?
Aleph soon returned to his family in the north, grateful for the Law of Moses that allowed him to divorce. None who knew Noa found fault in his divorce. He and his family quickly barricaded themselves behind a protective wall of justification: clearly God had condemned her – such a terrible event can only be the result of terrible sin. They even circulated rumors that she was a witch.
Noa edges her way through the crowd, just as she edged her way through life, making as little contact as possible. The crowd here seemed to be focused on some events on the edge of the market near the temple. Noa usually avoids the temple area, just as she avoids the unsolvable two-headed monsters of purpose and fate that lurked in the shadows of her psyche.
Noa sees a man speaking to the crowd. She notes that the crowd is drawn to him. Some of his words float above the crowd – “Come to me, all you who are weary. I will give you rest.” The words tug at her.
to shed this lifelong crushing burden and just be loved
Noa turns to a woman standing there “Who is that?”
“That is Jesus from Nazareth. Some people think he might be the Messiah!”
“But I thought the Messiah was to come from Judah?”
“They say he was born in Bethlehem.”
The mention of that name in close proximity to the concept of birth awakens the aged monsters. Confused for a moment, Noa’s thoughts suddenly make the connection – this is the man that was the boy that Herod tried to kill all those years ago. Because of this man, Nathan was sliced in two. Unable to subdue them, the memories leap into stark clarity. Nathan, laying on the ground with his blood and organs pouring out all over her arms as she tried to put him back together.
Noa barely stifles a cry as she lunges through the crowd.
Noa lives with some other women in a run-down area of Jerusalem. The women do various things to make enough money to live, washing clothes, cleaning Roman villas, etc. Some of the women are still young enough for other work, but not Noa. One of the women is telling of an experience of the last night. Noa usually ignores them while the women discuss their work: whatever the type of work, it is drudgery. The woman relating the experience of last night often works for men and her experiences hold no interest for Noa. Except that over the last few weeks, Noa has noticed a change in the demeanor of this woman. Formerly cynical and hard, walking dead, like all of them, she has started to seem like she is alive.
Noa listens while the woman relates how this man praised her in front of the religious leaders. His words clearly brought hope to the woman – Noa had never seen the woman so bright. Nor any other woman in their environment for that matter.
Intrigued, Noa asks “What man?”
“Jesus from Nazareth.”
The connection is made for Noa again, but this time it does not catch her off-gaurd. She starts to tear into the hope of the younger woman, to show her how there can be no hope if the coming of the Messiah meant that hundreds of babies were killed. Noa briefly wants to throw her intense pain all over the younger woman.
The reality is that she is alone in her pain – a lifetime of carrying pain, like a homeless ant carrying a dry twig across the sand, nowhere to go, no reason to carry it, but unable to stop. It is as useless to attack someone with her pain as it is to try to share her pain.
Noa grunts and turns away.
She moves to her sleeping area. She stares at the ceiling, reviewing the endless stream of thoughts and philosophies that progress through her awareness. They are familiar, as they parade through her being whenever there is no other distractions. But they are not friends. The terrible long ago memories of that brutal day when all hope crashed like a tower collapsing on her life. The continuous stream of disappointments and betrayals. The sporadic conception of hopes that never fail to abort before term. The dialog of desolation.
The pull of annihilation.
Why has she crawled so far? She wonders what she is waiting for. Somewhere buried under all the pain and futility there is a forlorn embryo of hope. She pulls back from the thought. To allow hope to be conceived is to allow betrayal to once again slash it to pieces.
She sees hope following this man from Nazareth around like an aura. She felt it the one time she heard him. She sees it in the people that believe he is something.
But how can God have brought this into place at the price of her devastation?
She becomes aware of a random thought floating in her awareness: the mother of that man had claimed she was a virgin. A mother, like she had been… She considers the possibilities, the strange conclusions to which such possibilities lead. It does nothing to change, bring relief to the loss, Unsummoned, the crystal image of Nathan dying returns, bringing dark perspective and the inescapable destination to which all thought leads.
Tears stream off her cheeks in the darkness. Damn hope.
She shuts that down. Stares into the darkness waiting for … sleep or better.
minutes as hours
hours as years
years as nothing
As the months march on, Noa hears of wild events. There is always news of wild events, always has been. She is skilled at ignoring most things – lessons of the past have gifted her with skill. She is secretly proud of her ability to shrug off even the most dramatic news.
Noa edges her way through the crowd. Different crowd. Different area – this is not the market at the edge of the temple, this is closer to the government district. And the crowd is quite stirred up, with a great deal of tension that cuts through Noa’s isolation walls.
Resistance to crowd is overcome by a morbid curiosity; the sounds of the crowd are like a dark cadence – underlying murmuring punctuated by intense shouts adding to the palpable mood of hatred. This appeals to Noa’s constant companion of darkness, she merges with the crowd inside and out.
A chant forms and grows in intensity. Noa’s emotions boil to the surface and she joins the chorus: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”. Noa doesn’t care who it is, the need for cataclysm overwhelms her mangled sense of mercy, lying in two pieces on the bloody floor.
The crowd surges away from the central district carrying Noa with it. The cacophonic symphony has morphed into strident strains as the crowd moves towards the place of the Skull, where death awaits whoever it is that has this powerful dark crowd as an unholy usher. The melody of certainty has contrapuntal harmonies of pain, agony and despair, with polyrhythmic angry commands and demands for blood. A masterpiece as if composed by the devil himself.
The chaotic movements lengthen in meter as the hill called Skull is attained. Noa is one with the crowd as the community waits for the soldiers to set the stage for the grand finale.
Noa edges her way through the crowd, driven by desire to see the final moments; perhaps a vicarious experience of the event she anticipates for herself – the final release.
The crowd does not give way easily. Some hours later she can see one man in agony, dangling on a cross like a grasshopper from a raven’s beak. He raises his head, his voice dribbling out like a croak, something about saving himself. He is looking to her right. Noa looks that way, but the crowd is too thick – she can only see the top of another cross.
She pushes her way that direction. Through a gap she sees a soldier, some kind of officer, looking up. He looks vaguely familiar, yet the hint at recognition sweeps away her solidarity with the crowd, replacing it with the surge of the hated memory. Nathan … swords … blood.
Now she can see the man on that cross. It is the man from Nazareth. A surge of bitterness. Nathan was destroyed because of this man’s birth, and her life with him.
As if to bring great clarity, a wail pierces the air. That wail. The terrible sounds of the day of her destruction resound in her memory. Wail. Wails from the so many. Her own wail, unorchestrated but expressing far more than any music she has heard since. Her wail of that day as her heart and life lay destroyed before her. Here, now, another wail.
Noa’s focus moves down the cross. There is the source of the wail. Noa knows the woman is the mother of the man on the cross. Noa knows the pain the woman expresses through the piercing wail that involuntarily pours from her heart.
Noa turns, running. She does not edge through the crowd, she does not see the crowd. She can’t see as tears cloud her vision. Her own wail piercing a way through the crowd.
please, can there be truth
Noa rises from her bed. She has not been out for days, mostly blindly staring at the wall or the ceiling.
While cloistered, hope had grown. But then the inevitable disappointment; maybe someone else understands my pain, maybe the mother and father of the man from Nazareth understand, but so what? The man from Nazareth is dead. Nathan is still dead. The brutality continues. Slowly hope fades.
The younger woman speaks again. Noa is sitting on her favorite tomb in her favorite neighborhood, where the neighbors are all dead. She musters her concentration, pushes her dark thoughts aside.
“I’m sorry what did you say?”
The woman is her roommate. What is she doing here?
“Noa, I have been looking for you. I know you are suffering, but I wanted to tell you something.”
Noa feels irritation.
“What is it?”
“I saw him. He is alive!”
A wave of brilliant water floods through the graveyard of her soul.
This is not the end. He is alive.