La Via Dolorosa
It was kindergarten, and children in school were whispering about Easter baskets, jelly beans, chocolate eggs, and exaggerating about 12-inch tall bunnies made out of chocolate. My eyes widened as I listened in fascination, images of baskets taller than me, piled high with sugary treats that crunched against my teeth danced before my eyes. I knew what I had to do as soon as school let out for Easter break: I would run home like the wind and tell my grandmother, “There’s something else we don’t know about America!”
Ever since I started school I had been the one to burst in through my family’s house doors and announce, in detail, all that we had to do if we were going to keep on living here in the United States. I had been the one to report on turkeys — not chickens — for a holiday known as Thanksgiving. My scribbled orders regarding Halloween and “tricker tree” and costumes had been delivered just this past October.
And now… Easter baskets? My buckle shoes slapped against the uneven sidewalk pavement as I tore down the block and a half distance from home to school. I burst into the house: “Abuelita! We need to buy baskets and fill them with candy and you have to hide them so we have to look for them and then tell us it was a rabbit that came to our house! By Sunday!”
This wouldn’t be a problem for my grandmother, I knew she could do it. Just a walk to the corner grocery store and we’d be just like any other American family. Except for the very big difference that it is GOOD FRIDAY that Colombians go all out, not Easter Sunday.
Oh, Colombians can do Good Friday up right. We keep that day as solemn as the day after Lincoln was shot. There is quiet observance, respectful voices, limited use of electricity. We are subdued in clothing and manner and in reenactment of the drama of Holy Week. It’s not a sad time, not at all, it is a time of hushed excitement for those like the kind of little girl that I was: in love with the heart ache of penance and humility. Walking the Stations of the Cross, kneeling before each Passion of Christ one by one, reading and hearing of Jesus’ arduous climb to His final stop on Mount Calvary — words here can’t do justice to what kind of mystical experience that was for a young child.
In our lives growing up, the concept of separation of church and state was unknown. The whole world was walking in Jesus’ footsteps from Thursday through Sunday, weren’t we? That’s how I saw it in my mind. La Semana Santa, Holy Week, when we commemorate and memorialize Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I knew the timetable by heart: on Thursday, He was arrested. On Friday, He was crucified. On Saturday, we wept. On Sunday, He rose again.
My brothers and sisters and I would wrap ourselves up in flat sheets and tie oversize belts around our waists. We’d put on our older sisters’ long brunette wigs and drag our feet, hunched over, across the kitchen floor, bearing brooms on our bent over backs. No one stopped us. I don’t think there was ever a time that a group of children were more in the moment than we were during our Holy Week dramatizations.
Our drama was luscious and no parody. Our scenes were complete with wiping the sweat off the brow from whomever was lucky enough to star in the coveted role of Jesus.
“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts… ” so Shakespeare tells us. But I’d go on to say, “And one man in his time plays many parts, but none felt more honored than imagining taking on — just for a martyred few seconds across a small kitchen floor — Jesus’ pain.”
Dear Americans, you can have your baskets of jelly bean speckled eggs buried in shredded plastic green grass. For a little girl of 5-years-old to be able to think that she was carrying even an ounce of back breaking weight in her beloved Jesus’ name, well, really… bitten off chocolate bunny ears and foil wrapped eggs pale in comparison.