The Paths We Walk
An Excerpt from Chapter 17: The Convergence of The Nameless Man
“…The inner-dialogue at an end, his eyes opened—sharp, wide and clear. The room was quiet—no conversations, no war-cries, no debates. For once even Yoseph was in a deep sleep.
Rising quietly in the dark, drawing his shawl around him and taking his staff in-hand he closed the distance of the bare room and moved swiftly down the hall—rounding the stairs, moving down unto ground level and out into the still night air.
If I am here…. If this all can actually be resolved, then let it be so. I have lingered on in this death too long. Since that scarring day I have been alone—apart from you and from my family—isolated in my pain, grappling with the same ghosts, reliving the same moments and struggling against the same unchanging facts. I don’t want to lose another day to this torment.
He moved silently through the night, passing along the narrow streets and underneath the arched doorways of the old city. In comparison to what it had once been, the city was unrecognizable. Small remnants of the ancient place looked familiar beneath the modern alterations, but they were few and far between. Thankfully he was not taking his directions from recognizable markers. His heart was leading him instinctively to the pivotal place—not the place recorded in history but the true place.
He could remember the city the way it was, in truth it was the one thing he could not forget. Much to his dislike, what took place here had been driven deeper than any other memory to occur in his life. The attack had become the center of his existence—above his family, above his children and above his own faith. His miraculous life, which could so easily be defined by his extraordinary communion with the divine and the immense love of his family, had come to revolve around the encounter with the evil he had in this place. This place had become the axis upon which his Being revolved and because of this, he had lost himself.
He had become his wounds. Long ago he had learned that the only way to regain himself once more was to heal the wounds. It was painfully ironic that, while others found his insights helpful, he could not heal himself. Clarity is so easily had when looking outward than when looking within. He understood the sufferings of others with such ease, finding the root of the pain that they could not; while the end of his own pain was ever-elusive.
For so many nights he had let the memories overwhelm him and rob him of his sleep. But on this night, he had crossed that line—moving beyond exhaustion to that point where he was too tired to let things go on how they had been; tired of cowering, tired of hiding, tired of begging within himself that nothing more happen.
Since that moment, on that infamous night all those years ago, when he stood before the council betrayed. Since that moment, he had been attempting to return to who he was before the attack—before they had come for him and the myths about him had been spun. He had trusted his heart back then—heeding his inner-voice in the face of death and torture. Yet at the same time, he could not help but think the man that he was then was only a child—unknowing and idealistic.
He wanted to again be who he once was yet, at the same time, he had come to hate who he was. Over the intervening years since the night when judgment was passed upon him, he had become his harshest accuser, blaming his own blindness as his downfall more so than the actions of those who betrayed him.
Haunted by regret and frayed by doubt, nothing had been certain in him since that night…since this city. Within the walls of this city he had lost himself. Would it be that within these walls he would find himself?
He felt words flow through him as he walked; it felt as though another walked with him, leading him down the path: We must believe in our healing if we are to allow ourselves to be healed. We must stop punishing ourselves if we are to escape our pain. We must place blame where it is due, whether upon ourselves or upon others and then we must accept that what has passed, cannot be changed. We mustn’t live in regret. We must be ever-growing.
He had not noticed the time when he left the building. Oblivious to the descending moon, he finally became aware of the approaching dawn as golden twilight hues began to fill the air. He was entering that thin time during which the veil between worlds parts and one can walk in the in-between. That time when the years behind us blur, the present dissolves and our entire life exists in one moment—all the years behind us and ahead of us converge and breathe as one.
Of course it was near dawn, he thought to himself, remembering back to his youth when he used to go out just before sunrise to walk among the hills.
Of course it would happen now, his heart whispered unto the unseen, once more acknowledging the keen sense of synchronicity that the Fates possess.
Turning his downcast gaze upward, he took in the scene of the narrow streets ahead of him. The modern city faded as the memory of how the city once had been intensified. He was treading a surreal path; he did not know where he was going and yet at the same time he knew that, within this city, there was but one place he must end up.
The man moved swiftly down the narrow streets. He drew his shawl over his head. His stride was too fast for him to use his staff so he carried it—from time to time, the end dragging along the surface of the stone pathways.
As he passed by, the vendors were opening their shops, pilgrims were entering the streets and the call for Morning Prayer resounded throughout the Quarters—a haunting, Bedouin voice cried out, summoning all to submit unto God.
Crossing back and forth between the present and the past, as he walked the streets he returned with a sharp push to the past—to a violent moment when he was pulled down the pathways of the old city, driven unto the council that was to judge him. Herded along by the bullies on his heels, he could feel once more the jabs to his ribs dealt by those wielding wooden bats. Shoved to the ground, then kicked as he tried to rise, he could once more feel the burn of the skin peeling away from his palms as it did that night when, hands outstretched, he braced himself each time he was thrown down to the gritty floor of the earth. The core of his body felt sore as it had that night—the soft organs within bruised by the hard blows.
But then, suddenly, the man was pulled from the past back into the present by the obnoxious call of an eager merchant pointing to a painting depicting the scenes of the crucifixion—a tapestry woven of both myth and hard reality. Unable to comprehend the madness of it all, the man felt a grinding shock resound through his already reeling mind.
Plunged back into the past, he recalled being pushed forcefully through the heavy doors of the Temple, as they marched him before the council—that night they were to play the role of the puppets to those who sought to make a new church of their own. He faced the questions hurled at him over the inquisition. Time and deliberation compressed in this regression; no sooner than he was pushed through the doors did the lethal verdict come: “Blasphemer!”
In the space of a breath, he was pulled once more from the past, back into the present. Waking to find himself wading claustrophobically into a crowd of morning market-goers choking the narrow corridor.
Violently thrust back into the past, he found himself helpless and unarmed among a group of men. He felt the perverse amusement they derived from his fear. They were thrilled by the power they could exert over him—enthralled, like so many in their movement, to play the role of God.
Pulled from his past, he felt a stranger’s hand grasp his arm; it was yet another merchant enthusiastically trying to sell him a faux crown of thorns. Lining the shelves of the merchant’s shop were hollow plastic idols and figurines. His eyes continued down the length of the open shop; his jaw went lax in horror. There were a series of framed pictures in succession hanging along a makeshift wall composed of whitewashed pegboard. It was a portrait size image of a man—a man known to the world. It was the portrait of the ghost who had haunted his life. The man in the picture was exaggerated to the point where he lost his human quality. The colors chosen by the painter were primary and neon—utterly unnatural. The crown of thorns sat atop his head. Beads of blood gathered where the thorns cut into him. His complexion was pale, thin and sickly. His sapphire blue eyes were turned upward—nearly rolling back into his head looking to some divine presence not depicted. The nameless man gazed deeply into the picture in front of him. He saw his own reflection appear against the glass of the portrait. The two men blurred together for a moment, they were nothing alike yet were inseparable. His full face, contrasted the drawn out figure’s. His dark, tanned skin reflected against the figure’s pale complexion. His dark brown eyes stared into the figure’s blue ones.
In that instant the man felt as though he had been struck swiftly in the back of the head by some invisible attacker. His perception was jolted, as though an earthquake had tilted the horizon. He was leveled by the madness of it—by the mockery, by the myth, by the belittled pain, by the lost truth and by the epic lie his simple life had been contorted into. He recoiled at the very thought of it—driven unto the edge of what his mind could comprehend as fate brought him to this perverse full-circle of events.
Breaking the grip the memories had upon him, he charged forward down the path, running through the gate and out into the hills, away from the inescapable events until, hoarse and out of breath, he came to the end of the path to see it looming before him—the place where the journey ended once and would again.
Pulled back into the past by a sharp pain cutting into him with such ferocity that the breath was pushed from his chest, the man found himself back with the armed mob, tied down—his pure body made a spattered mural of evil’s hatred. Feeling that incomparable terror that comes when the fate of your body is in the hands of the immoral, blow after blow the memories of each lash coincided with each step bringing him along the path up the rocky mount.
The further we went the heavier the weight upon his heart grew. Lost in-between his past and present, one step was made upon the modern inlaid stone road while the next was made upon the dry dirt pathway of the past. He was pulled from his past by a holy man speaking words he could not understand he looked up to see a staff with a crucifix atop it raised before him, held by a priest who offered a blessing unto him. The man stared fixedly at the deathly figure set against the cross writhing in pain. It was a moment of agonizing horror frozen in time—hung on the walls of millions of followers. The aged cleric stared blankly at him, as he moved his withered hands—up and down, side to side—outlining the burden that the man had borne, which in turn had perversely become the symbol of the church that had been built. After making that shape that had outlined the years of the man’s life, the priest walked on, reciting a prayer over and over again, as if in a trance.
Brought back into his past by a joint-severing pain, it felt as though the heaviness of the memory had dropped upon him. He fell to the ground. His knee dug into the dry gravel of the hillside; the force of the strike had embedded small stones into his open wounds.
On that day, as he traveled the path to the site, there had been those who followed him distraught and those who had followed him spouting damnation. In the past when he had collapsed under the weight of his burden there had been those who rushed to his aid, held back by the outstretched lance of the centurions and then there had been those who had rushed to kick him while he lay helpless, pelting insults after pitching rocks at his exposed back. The stones cast at him while he waked this path had embedded themselves in his life. The gravel of these streets had gathered in the intersections of the gashes splattered across his back and though the rocks had been physically removed in the days following the attack, fragments of these streets remained logged in the scar tissue still, preventing the full closure of the wounds.
Pulled from his past back into the present, he felt the sweat running down his brow—sweat not from the heat but from the exertion of the march. Pushing himself onward, his head spun and his heart swelled with pain, beating harshly against his ribs…the gripping memories playing out within him strangling him.
Blind to the pilgrims who thought him possessed, the man looked up to the path ahead of him—staring into his past where he saw once more the procession of the onlookers. The figures were dressed in robes, the women donning veils. All of them were shouting words he could not hear above his wailing heart. But then, sharply, the scene shifted once more and he saw a few early morning pilgrims walking ahead in suits and denim jeans. The path leading to the site had been worn down over the ages by those who sought to stand in that place where the life he had once lived had ended—the place he had been unable to escape since that day.
He could feel the weight of memory he was dragging up the hill. The voices of the ghosts grew loud in his mind, he could not hear their calls clearly back then—as he walked the path those many years ago but he could hear them clearly now. He could not feel the rocks they threw strike him those many years ago or the dirt they kick upon him as he passed by; however he could feel it now, and in the revelation of the hatred projected upon him the pain was forced deeper.
Falling as the gravel shifted beneath his feet, he struck the ground and inhaled a lung full of dust. His sweat-soaked face, now stained with dirt, was tattooed with a blooming bruise. He coughed violently—tears streaked the dirt on his cheek. And when at last his eyes cleared, he saw a sight he did not expect. Standing before him in the distance were the outlines of those quite familiar. Standing ahead of him he saw his mother, his father and his wife. He saw them all hysterical, helplessly watching the events play out, just as he was helplessly enduring it all.
For him it was a nightmare beyond comprehension but it was even more torturous to witness what he was going through reflected in their eyes. Beneath the ridge of his swollen brow and through the blood and dust he watched them breakdown—the whole family descending into madness….”
Traveling through the Holy Land, eighteen strangers are forced to take refuge in Jerusalem during a militant attack. Kept in close quarters in an abandoned building, over the course of four days this group of strangers begin a dialogue, discussing love and evil, religion and god; finding amongst their number a mysterious nameless man who poses a revolutionary perspective on these age-old questions.