Here is the sixth entry from my upcoming booklet, “Our Darkness, His Light”.
With a harsh, cruel motion of her hand, Ruth wiped the white paste across her face. She looked in the glass that mirrored her features. She adjusted the white paint on her face so that no skin showed. Ruth’s face looked lifeless. With another sudden movement, she pasted black across her lips. Her hands snaked into the pot before her and brought out ashes that she sprinkled in her hair. Ruth whirled in the darkness of her room and grabbed a black cloak from the wooden peg by the door. She settled it around her shoulders. Next, came a black shawl draped over her head. Ruth glanced in the glass once more and approved of the harsh, ghostly figure that stood before her. It looked dead.
“I’ll show them. They think that they are the best. They think that they can push me out because I’m a lonely widow. I can do as well as the rest of them. Just wait until they hear me, the old biddies.”
Ruth whirled in the shadows of her room and her white hand snaked out to open the doorway. Bright sunlight gushed in from the outside and she squinted in the light. She cast the black shawl over her face and stepped out into the dusty, hot streets of Jerusalem.
To her left, down the road, Ruth could hear the crowd gathering. It would be in that direction that she would need to go. She hurried along pushing people roughly out of her way. One woman glanced over her shoulder, tears on her face and Ruth laughed out loud.
“You don’t even know how to cry.” Ruth barked into the woman’s face and pushed past her toward the street beyond.
Ruth swore as she saw the group of women already gathered at the side of the road. There must have been five mourners there, all dressed in black like her. Their faces painted in the white of death, their lips black slashes, their mouths opened to utter unwieldy sounds of pain and suffering. She shook her head sadly.
“They can’t even scream well.” Ruth muttered. She pushed through the crowd to the other side of the road and planted herself firmly in front of a large, fat man. The man mumbled gruffly behind her and she turned around.
“Leave me alone, I’m doing my job.” The bitterness dripped from her voice.
Ruth glanced down the opening between the two sides of the crowd; down the street to where she could see the Roman soldiers approaching. Roman soldiers. How she hated them. If it hadn’t been for the Roman soldiers her husband would still be alive. But then, he had been a fool. He had sold his soul to the Romans and it was no wonder that they betrayed him. He had died at their hands. Ruth cursed his soul to hell for leaving her alone in this world with no money and no way to fend for herself. Her only hope was to sell her services as a professional mourner.
By tradition women who chose to be mourners could line the funeral path. Those mourners who wailed the loudest were usually paid by the family for the job that they had performed. Ruth doubted that anybody walking down this road would have family who could pay her, but at least her presence here was good advertising. The crowd was large today and while their eyes would be fixed on the men who would walk down this road, they would also have to pass across her. If she could out scream the women across the path, they would know who was the best. The first Roman soldier made his way past them and the first prisoner stumbled beneath the weight of his cross.
Ruth went into her act, throwing herself into the dirt, groveling and screeching in a high-pitched voice. Through the struggling man’s legs she saw the other mourners wailing. None of them had thrown themselves in the dirt. Ruth proved that she could grovel with the best of them. The first prisoner had passed by and another group of Roman soldiers came into sight. One of them sneered at her and kicked sand in her face. She stood up and clinched her fist at him and then remembered the people who were watching her.
The second prisoner came in sight, stumbling beneath the load of his cross. She fell to her knees and screamed the loudest she could. Her wails threatened to drown out the mumbling of the crowd around her. The six women across the way seemed to pause and glance at her in irritation. Inwardly she smiled. She would show them she was the best.
Another group of soldiers followed the second prisoner as he made his way up the hill. Ruth waited anxiously for the third and last prisoner to appear over the crest of the hill. She saw the tip of his cross bobbing and weaving as it came over the top of the rise and then the cross piece and then the bowed head. She reached to grab the edge of her garment. This time she was going to go all the way. She was going to rip her garment in half and throw herself before the man’s feet. That would win her so many contracts as a mourner she could buy bread for the next two months.
Ruth’s hands paused in mid tear. The man’s head was very different. It wasn’t bare like the rest of them. Something was pressed around his head, like a crown. She stood there silently as the head came over the crest of the hill. The crown was not made of metal, it was made of wood. She saw red points of blood drip from edges of the crown of thorns.
How odd she thought. Why would they make a prisoner wear a crown of thorns? Ruth shook her head and tried to get back into her stance. Already the other group of mourners were letting loose with the loudest whooping and wailing that she had heard all day. She opened her mouth to utter another cry and this time the cry came softly at the sight in front of her.
The man’s body now came into sight over the edge of the hill. He hunched over beneath the weight of the cross and Ruth could see along his back the rips and the tears from the cat-o-nine tails. The blood had hardened and chunks of flesh were missing. She heard a wailing sound that was incredibly deep, and yet soft. She looked around to see who it was and realized it was her own voice. She pressed her hand to her mouth. How could this be? Who was this man that was beginning to move her? She shook her head and tried to draw upon her professional dignity and prepared to rend her clothes.
The man stumbled and fell forward into the dirt. When he did, blood from his back splattered through the air and she felt the warm drops of fluid hit her in the face. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes as she looked at the man lying in the sand before her. His body was bruised and bloodied, the crown of thorns oozed blood on the edge of his hair running down to stain a perfectly seamless purple robe. His eyes were closed in exhaustion and pain. She fell to her knees beside him. Ruth reached forward to touch his face and she drew back.
What was she doing? She was losing everything that she had worked for. Where was her good mourning technique? Why was she not wailing like the six biddies screaming their lungs out across the road?
The man’s eyes opened and met hers. Ruth felt something snap inside of her and a warm flush ran inside her body. The man lifted up on his hands, his eyes turned toward her. Those eyes were filled with so much pain. And beneath the pain, there was something else. She knelt closer, gazing into his eyes. There was love there. Love? How could this man love anyone? How could those eyes hold anything but the anger and resentment and hatred she felt in her heart? The coldness of her heart began to melt as she knelt before his face, and she wept. The moans that came now were genuine. The agony that she felt was real and poured from her mouth, echoing down the empty street. She reached forward with her hand and touched the man’s face.
He arose slowly to his hands, then to his knees, his eyes never leaving hers. A Roman soldier beside him picked up the cross and dropped it again on his back. The man stumbled beneath the load and then he looked at her one more time.
“Daughter of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” His words pierced her heart.
He passed Ruth by and the cries and wails that came from her now were filled with such pain and mourning that her soul was emptied of all of its bitterness. Someone tugged at her sleeve. She turned to look at the man standing beside her. He clutched in his hand several denarii.
“Good woman, you are an excellent mourner. I would like to hire your for my mother’s funeral this evening.”
Ruth glanced down at the money and back at the man’s face. Her heart that had once been so hard and so cold was filled with a sadness and a sorrow that was too genuine. She shook her head as the tears blurred her eyes.
“Didn’t you hear what he said? He told me to mourn no more.” Ruth turned her back on the man and made her way down the street following behind the man who had taught her the true meaning of mourning.
Luke 23:27-30 And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.