Evening draws nearer and the shadows grow longer. The winds whispering in the branches grow chilled upon the traveler’s cheeks as he stands staring at the fork in the trail before him. To his right, the path is overgrown, but it is a path just the same. “Why do I hesitate? There should be no indecision,” he thinks. “Clearly, this choice has been made for me thousands of times before…” He sheds his pack to lessen his load.
Indeed, there are few among us who have not for a moment stood where that traveler stands, stood at this fork in an oft-traveled road. The clear dusty trail to the left recounts its tale of our decisions with the wisdom of endless footprints embellished by direction and purpose. Today, the well-trodden path to the left, leads through the celebration of a man’s death. The traveler has been standing for a while.
It is not indecision that causes him to pause and stare. Celebrating death is not something he has ever done and today is not the day he will begin. There is no doubt in his mind which way he will turn when he finds what it is that he seeks.
Why he gazes so long to his left, is because the feet that traveled that road were so many, and his two shall be lonely in the course they will ultimately choose. Truly, it would be better to walk in company. But mostly, he gazes because he almost understands.
The road to his left is the road of promises, promises covered in the dust that has settled after the shoes of countless travelers before him kicked it up on their determined journeys. Those journeys were toward admirable ends. They were journeys of hope, of faith, of triumph, of justice and many, many, many of them were journeys of welcome relief.
A man died. In a small way, maybe his death does offer hope. Perhaps it can help strengthen our faith. There is a certain triumphant ending for the vigilantes who brought him to his end, and there is no doubt that a measure of justice has been served. For those of us who have been bound to his actions by religion, there is certainly unnameable relief. The traveler loves these things. They are the stuff life should be made of. But this man, this day, paid for these things with his blood.
So the traveler stares. The object of his fascination is the footprints in the dust. They are scattered in patterns of joy and celebration. It is a beautiful thing to watch people dance, so the traveler watches the shadows of those who thought they knew better than he, cavorting across the fields of his imagination in their joy. He knows the celebrants are neither insensitive nor cruel people.
The man who died stood for many things they could not suffer. For many, he wore the bloodstains of their loved ones on his hands like gloves. Adorned himself in them as proud raiment. Terror and hatred were his ideals. Fear and death were his tools. It seems right that his cruelty should come to an end. And so they dance.
For many more the deceased was a curse upon their names, upon their homes and upon their mosques. He drew a veil of hatred and prejudice over the face of their religion. He led a satanic crusade of evil, murdering in the name of their God, and he caused others to hate them for his sake. It seems right that his sacrilege should come to an end. And so they dance.
But to many others this man is a hero. They celebrate because he is now a beloved martyr for an ideal they all share. An ideal they consider greater than their individual lives. Their hero was murdered for a cause… and for what other cause than because he murdered for a cause of his own? Their actions have been validated in his demise. It seems right that his journey to sainthood should come to an end. And so they dance.
This man was not the problem. No more was his death the solution. The traveler knows. Retaliation is inevitable and thousands more loved ones will die. The martyr’s curse will remain tattooed on the temples of the devout. This graffiti cannot be easily scrubbed away.
With a heavy sigh, our traveler hoists his pack and secures it snugly again about his shoulders. The time for reflection has passed. After one long last look down the trail to his left, he turns and trudges through the overgrowth with confidence. It is the trail less traveled, it is true. There will be tall grasses of doubt to slow his step. Low-hanging branches of contempt will scrape at the resolve on his cheeks. Antagonistic weeds of reproach will condemn his lonely decision. But our traveler is familiar with these less-traveled trails in life. Strong boots will prevail against the grasses. Cheeks already scarred fear no hanging branch. Loneliness is merely a beacon to be followed.
Down this trail lies solemnity. It is an end that the traveler knows in his heart is fitting for this moment of tragedy.
© 2011 Anne Schilde