Our beloved dog died Easter morning. That Sunday was also Passover, so she left on quite a Holy Week.
Though Kate was 14, she was still a puppy at heart in true Boxer fashion. She romped Friday, then woke Saturday, walked into the woods, and lay down. When she died the following morning, we broke open the soil at the place she chose, placing jonquils and kind memories alongside. Her long and happy life would be remembered.
Every death reminds us of all deaths. Bending over that lovingly dug grave reminded me of another Sunday, a different ritual, another death.
“We never knew when it was going to happen. My mother would work a night shift, and my father might come home in that crazy mode. My brothers and sisters tried to hide me. but he would search the house until he found where I was stashed: in a toy box, tucked away between someone’s bedcovers, under a pile of clothes on a shelf.
“He would very caringly pick me up, carry me to the bathroom, and speak softly of things I never understood. About my mother, I think. How maybe I wasn’t his son. All the while the tub would be filling with hot water. He would wrap my face in a towel and, in an almost ministerial act, dunk my head into the tub until I sucked in enough water to pass out.
“The attacks worsened over the years. By the time I was six I’d become — hell, I don’t know what I’d become. It was a Sunday. I remember feeling tonight he could drown me for real. I set our living room on fire. I didn’t run from the room. I remember it being fully ablaze. I wasn’t scared. In that moment I was fine with whatever results I got.”
The friend who wrote this now lives in prison. He may well die there. I imagine the child in his heart, praying to be passed over, struggling to survive being found. Who can bear that much pain, either him or us?
That our lives have value seems obvious. Advertisers and marketers constantly broadcast the myriad ways we matter. But what is our value when society has washed its hands of us?
“Most of us know what’s coming,” a friend wrote about another Holy Week ritual. “We remove our shoes. Our socks and feet are clean. Some don’t know, though, and that’s pretty embarrassing.
“The priest kneels, washes our feet, and anoints them with oil. Frankly, most of us are relieved when it’s over. I suppose we’re embarrassed that someone of a higher worldly standing is humbling himself before us.
“But there’s something else. I’m considered to be the scum of the State. I’ve been condemned to death. And there’s a part of me that’s defiant over that label. The defiance is a shred of pride I cling to. But however small that pride is, I’m shamed by it when the priest washes my feet. It reminds me that even though I may think I’m at the bottom of society’s barrel, Christ would serve the lowest of the low without hesitation. Seen through the eyes of Christ, there is no better or worse.”
We recently read some of these letters during a restorative justice class. Afterward, there was a stunned silence. I asked the listeners to stay with those feelings. To resist the mind’s impulse to protect by rationalizing and justifying. It requires courage to allow our innate tenderness to lie there, exposed.
A middle-aged woman finally spoke, her voice thick with tears.
“I just feel shame,” she said. “I’ve driven by these buildings without once wondering who was inside. Passed by every person in there without a second thought. It makes me wonder what else I’ve never thought to think about,” she wept. “Who else I’ve overlooked.”
Now there’s a question that will break you open.
I recall a minister saying that the symbolic meaning of washing one’s hands during the Passover Seder wasn’t about pretending to some kind of impossible inner purity. It was about signifying that we are prepared to participate. Without hesitation, we are ready to do whatever is within our reach.
Every death reminds us of all deaths just as every love reminds us of all love. It’s a good plan to wash our hands for each other, rather than of each other. There is no better or worse. There is only this radical undeserved love. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. All lives have meaning. What else, who else, have I never thought to think about?
Lynden Harris is the founder of Hidden Voices. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org