On Good Friday I went home to watch some basketball during my lunch hour. There is a coffeehouse in the neighborhood that is on the way home. On the bench in front sat two young women, one wearing sunglasses-I don't know... thirtyish-and behind the bench stood two other women. They were all holding hands and they appeared to be praying. The woman with the sunglasses was crying, lifting up her shades to dab at her eyes with her free hand.
While I cannot pretend to know what was going on, obviously the woman in the shades was experiencing some acute psychic distress of some sort. As we know, the possibilities for human misery are practically limitless. Perhaps a loved one died. Maybe she got some bad news from her physician. Traumatic breakups with "significant others"can get the tap turned.
Or maybe she's just nuts and her friends were trying to keep her from causing a scene. We can't know. But I was struck by two things.
First of all, you wouldn't see a bunch of guys doing this. Pretty much every woman I know has a core group of girlfriends with whom she derives sustenance. The previous administration around here had a GNO-Girls Night Out-that not only was inviolate but was typically planned with military precision. I know this because I was typically copied in on the emails that would fly around concerning the plans. I assumed that these messages were intended as a convenient reminder that I was to take a powder during GNO.
As the all seeing and all knowing Dr. GG says, "Women need other women." Maybe so, maybe no. I don't know any of the women that out there around the bench. But I do know that women tend to reach out to their girlfriends in time of trouble. Guys go out and drink. Or buy golf equipment. Anything to keep from talking about it.
And then I thought about somebody else who had a rough time of it on Good Friday.
It is said that Jesus during His time of trial in the garden at Gethesemane prayed so intensely that He sweated blood. As I understand it, Catholic tradition teaches that the fullness of evil in human history was revealed to Him at that moment-the wars, the famines, the Holocaust, Dancing With The Stars-in order that He might understand the gravity and the necessity of the sacrifice that God required of Him.
Because Jesus didn't want to die. He prayed that the cup prepared for Him might pass him by. Unlike the poor woman on the bench on the bench outside the coffeehouse, Jesus couldn't call upon his friends to comfort him. They were all asleep. Indeed, Simon Peter, the Rock upon which Jesus built the Church (if you believe that's what He was up to) would go on to betray Him later on that day. And this was a man who had seen the miracles with his own eyes.
"Human" Friedrich Nietzsche would later say. " All too human."
If you look at the Easter story through the lens of history Christianity is yet another of a number of world religions which required blood atonement for the forgiveness of sins. Typically, the blood offered the angried up deity belongs to someone else. A lamb, a slave, a captive for example. Human history teaches us that it is rare that the atoner himself will offer his own hide to buy off the Almighty for the sake of the common good.
And history is replete with instances of dying and rising gods. And gods impregnating humans. Viewed through this lens, the notion of blood atonement, which is still the cause of much wickedness and violence in this world, is a concept which is simply ridiculous from a literal perspective.
So what makes Easter different?
I once had a female friend who was going through some troubles. I offered to cook her something. She sat in a chair drinking wine while I stirred the red sauce I was making all the time listening to her tearful tale of sorrow and disgrace. After awhile, I asked her to come have a taste and asked her what she thought it needed. Maybe some oregano? Maybe some more wine? Pepper? Pretty soon she was stirring and tasting, distracted by the task at hand and comforted by the sauce she was tasting.
The moral of this cheap parlor trick? It is this: No matter how bad things are you can always figure out a way to make things better.
And that's what makes Easter Easter. Believe what you will. Reject what you can't. As for me, I take comfort in the Easter proclamation that no matter how bleak things seem at the time, things can get better. Tomorrow is another chance.
Don't give up. Things can get better.
I hope that girl I saw crying on Good Friday catches a break. It looked like she could use one. She obviously has people who care for her. That's a damn good start.
And while Jesus wasn't so lucky on His Good Friday, maybe her prayers will be answered.