Ground Zero

What stories do we tell ourselves when we look at photos we’ve taken on our journey? Sometimes it’s hard to convey to listeners unless they have been there or know the history of the place. Do I start from the beginning? Or start from the end and work my way back? From birth to death? From rising to the setting? But sometimes, one photo is enough to start the story rolling.

We have been warned to keep our valuables close to our bodies as we did the Palm Sunday Walk on a crowded street littered with tourist, vendors, and pilgrims. Beware of the pickpocketers. It’s hard to be vigilant and stay prayerful at the same time. To remain even keel when we were accosted and surrounded by vendors as we finished the walk is a test of my good manners to merely say “No, thank you.” The vendors are persistent. At the end of the trail, our priest was pickpocketed. We all chipped in so that he has pocket money, at least to pay for a meal of Falafel for the next five days of the journey.

“If only I could touch the olive tree that Jesus touched, I would be healed.” The trees are off limits surrounded by iron gates. I can only admire from a distance the two-thousand-year-old tree.

Life is not fair. To put it in simple terms, no matter how much we try to live a righteous life, there will always someone that will take advantage of us.  To save our own skin, we lie through our teeth. It’s a dog eat dog world.

The rock is cool to touch since a basilica is built over it called the Church of All Nations. Jesus agonized on this rock and sweated blood. It’s fitting to see a couple of thornbirds and iron spikes surrounding the foundation. Here we have one hour to meditate the agony of what it feels to have only a few hours to live. I am far from dying. I can’t imagine it even the thought of sweating bullets. Maybe it resembles the state of panic attack. My hands are sweating, my whole body trembling, I cannot breathe, my chest hurts, my head pounding. I don’t know. I don’t know when I would die. What I know death comes to us all.

From Mount Olive to Jesuralem, that is one long trek. The dome of Holy Sepulcher may be visible from a distance but judging from here, this may be about 10 kilometers. I remember walking on the flat surface of Stanley Park, it took me at least 3 to 4 hours to finish a 10K walk. With the rugged terrain, this would take at least six hours. How did they manage to walk without hiking boots during those days?

We have to take the bus to reach Jerusalem. As we passed by Potter’s Field, I can imagine Judas hanging from one of the trees, his body bloated from the heat, became too heavy for the branch to carry his weight, the limb broke, his body lay splattered face down. Good, he deserves it. Guilt has a way of killing your soul.

“Under these circumstances, I have a duty against which my habits, even more, the pride of my instincts, revolt at the bottom – namely, to say: Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else!.”  It wasn’t Pontius Pilate that said this; Friedrich Nietzsche wrote it in his book Ecce Homo.

Inside the Old Jerusalem where the Basilica of Ecce Homo is, I imagined that it was a courthouse. The Judge, Pontious Pilate. The jury, the people. In the real world, it’s a big responsibility to be part of the panel. I did once before. I was selected. I remember when we were deliberating, one of the juries is a Muslim. When it was his turn to share his thoughts, he abstained from speaking. I don’t know the background of others. We all have to abide by the law and have to put our belief system aside.  I am a Catholic, nobody knew it. However, I prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance to provide me with an objective mind. It was tough, and I don’t want to be part of the jury again. I hate to think that the future of a person is in my hands.

At dawn, when the Old Jerusalem is still asleep, we returned to Ecce Homo to carry the cross and follow the path where Jesus walked along Via Dolorosa. The cross is massive, and It took four people to lug it comfortably. Our group decided taking turns in carrying it all the way to the Basilica of Holy Sepulchre, rested the cross by the door and celebrated the passion of Jesus at the Chapel of Calvary. This site is the holiest of holy for Christians. It is the place where Jesus was crucified and died. On this spot, it’s always Good Friday.

I can’t believe it. Never in my wildest dream that I will be at this place. For years of learning about the life of Jesus, finally, I am here. Unbelievable. Filled with gratitude, I stood at the corner of the chapel soaking as much as I can the ambiance of this holy place. I wished I could stay longer, but there was another group registered to celebrate the next mass.

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23: 44-46)

So, what story do I want to write? I don’t want to write how I want to die. I want to write about how I live an ordinary life.

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