Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Eighth Station: The Daughters of Jerusalem Stand By

"A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
                                                           --Luke 23. 27-31

I love the Eighth Station of the Cross. For standing near –with all the disciples hiding and afraid—the women were there. Luke doesn’t give us their names.  But we know Jesus called them “the Daughters of Jerusalem.”

We know their names, don’t we? Could one of those standing in that company be somebody’s mother? Maybe mine. My parents were married for 13 years, but no children came. And then—surprise! My mother in her thirties was pregnant. I don’t know how long she worked in the mill as her belly swelled. Her feet must have hurt and she must have had to run to the dirty mill toilet because of the nausea. With little money except what she and my Daddy made—she worked almost to the end.

The Doctor delivered me at home. So she washed me off, held me tight and named me Roger. Will Rogers, whom she adored, had died in August before my October birthday. And so she gave me Will’s name.  Why, someone asked her? “He makes me laugh.” Hard as her life was she always made sure that the first-born and my brother who came four years later—had the best she could give. Sometimes more than she give.

She took us up the street and around the corner to what then looked like a huge church. Brick, tall white columns—so she gave me faith. She made sure we stayed in school and wore clothes that were nice. She, with her eighth grade education, surrounded us with books. She cooked, cleaned and kept things going after long hours in the mill. I’ve often wondered how she stood the tedium, the boredom, the utter sameness of her cotton-mill schedule week after week, year after year.

Nobody in our family had ever been to college—but she made sure I would get there. The morning I was to leave for school I carried my heavy-foot locker out to the curb where a friend waited in his car. She had left her job at the mill and came out to say goodbye. What eighteen year old ponder the grief and the sadness of her standing on that porch and waving goodbye? She came no further—she didn’t me want to see her cry.  She let me go knowing a new unknown chapter was beginning and never again would we be the way we were.

Every week without fail fifteen crumpled dollars came in an envelope from my mother. I have a picture somewhere of her dressed in her finest, hat and all—smiling at my graduation four years later.

Years after her death, at a party we were all asked to bring a picture of how we looked when we were young. I found a framed photo of me. I must have been around four years old. I took the picture from the frame and on the back in her penciled-handwriting were the proud words: “This is Roger—he is four year old.” I had never seen those words but it made me remember all that she had given me. Where would I have gone—what would I have done without that love and stubborn belief that I was somebody.

And so as I look up with all the other pilgrims who shuffle through this line gazing at the Stations there is a lump in my throat. The Daughters of Jerusalem stood close as he staggered by. It must have helped immensely when Jesus scarred and wounded saw those faithful women with tears streaming down their faces. What were their names? I cannot give you all their names—but one of them, I do believe was named Mother.    

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