Thursday, January 21, 2016

I want to be like Mary Magdalene

Three weeks into seeing my friend twice daily as life slowly slips away from her wracked and wasted body. Three weeks since she first said, “I’m ready to go” and now she’s whispering, “I want to die…” and “Why can’t I die?” Her suffering is infinitely sad and unnecessary. That’s the way suffering seems to go so often. I notice that despite the sadness I don’t seem to completely connect with it. I wonder if I’ve lost so much I don’t have that much connection left.
I remember in Vietnam when I became impervious to the horror. And fear? Fear, I spit in your fucking face.
It was dark by the time I got into the perimeter of a Marine battalion on an operation at the DMZ. I reported to the commanding officer, who told me to stay with the command group. Some of them were asleep by then, so I lay down beside them and slept the night through.
In the morning I discovered that I was sleeping next to some dead men wrapped in ponchos and laid out next to the command group. Their gear was lying piled nearby and I found a C-ration can of cinnamon roll (my favorite) in one man’s pack. I had started to eat it when some Marines asked for help lifting bodies onto the back of a quad 20 tracked/armored vehicle. There were two men on top of the vehicle and two of us below and I was holding the cinnamon roll in my teeth as we lifted the first man up. His body was tilted up and I was below and a dark liquid ran out of the poncho and down my upraised arm and I couldn’t let go or the body would have gone to the ground and the liquid slid down my arm, down my side.
It was the heart of darkness. The horror. So much for impervious.
Photo of photos of condemned children
S21/Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh
Later it got worse, when the bodies and ponchos started to cook on top of the engine vents as we fought through the morning.

When I first started seeing my friend after she had become so sick, she would ask me to stay and I would. When she went home from the hospital I committed to coming twice daily to her apartment and I did. At first it was a lot of time and a lot to do. Later, there was less to do, but I’m still coming because I said I would. Now I’m only a witness to her suffering.

I thought about Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane right before he was murdered. “Remain here… watch with me,” he said to his disciples. They didn’t do it. I deeply don’t want to let my friend down like the disciples let Jesus down. I want to be like Mary Magdalene, the one who didn’t give up, the one who watched with Jesus through the awful suffering and through the end, who was witness to the suffering, the one who stayed. (And I get it that three weeks isn't very long.)