Sunday, September 24, 2006

My Crucifixion: the Aftermath

Perhaps aftermath isn't the right word. Maybe long-term repercussions would be more accurate.

If you haven't read the first part of the story of my crucifixion, you'll want to read Young Martyr at Play.

I grew up, for many reasons, with some damaged ideas of what I had to do to be loved. I won't go into that issue in this post, but suffice it to say that I grew up with a bit of a savior complex. I got involved with young ladies who had their own issues, and I did my darndest to take responsibility for them, fix them, or do whatever I could to make their lives better. I remember one time being in a bad relationship with a young lady, and I spoke to the friend of a young woman whom I'd just realized I'd fallen for in a hard way. As I was explaing this complicated situation to her, she remarked, "No one made you her savior, man." But that was the role I tried to play in relationship after relationship.

Some 16 years later or so, I was working for a high-tech company in the Boise area supervising a group of eight close-knit professionals, mostly a bunch of well-educated, liberal women. While we got business done, we also talked a lot, shared a lot of stories, and laughed a lot. Shortly after I began my return to the Church, I got into a discussion about my childhood, and I let slip to one of my employees that I had crucified myself on my grandmother's lawn. She'd been raised in a nominally Presbyterian family, and she was aghast at the idea of a Christian child doing such a thing. Naturally, this meant she had to poll the others to get their perspectives, and all of those of non-Catholic or non-Christian background were appalled at the seemingly blasphemous act.

Then she spoke to the only other cradle Catholic on the staff: "Argi*, did you hear that crucified himself when he was a kid?"

Argi responded, "Oh yeah... No. Hadn't heard that story."

"Well," she said, "Aren't you appalled?"

He shrugged and smiled. "Sounds like a Catholic boy to me."

My coworkers hadn't missed the fact that I tended to put myself on the line more than necessary. Actually, that's putting it too kindly. Perhaps what they noticed was my tendency toward self-martyrdom. I recall during a particularly tough period of layoffs, I said that I would stay as long as they were there and needed someone to defend their interests. One of them told another later, "When is he going to come off of that cross?"

About three weeks later on a Friday, I arrived at work. Like many workplaces, on Friday the rules are relaxed. People dressed more casually, and the office atmosphere wasn't quite as buttoned up. For us, Friday meant music over the intercom, typically Stevie Ray Vaughn or someone else that everyone could agree upon. However, this day, I entered to the sound of Gregorian chant.

This wasn't the most reverent bunch (albeit very tolerant of their supervisor's recent reversion), so naturally I found the music choice perplexing. As I walked in, I passed by the one person on my staff with whom I had a strained relationship. On most mornings, this person would probably not have acknowledged my presence. However, I knew something was afoot when I noticed her lips curl ever so slightly into a grin. I turned down the aisle and noticed everyone's attention to be uncharacteristically riveted to their monitors.

And then I stopped dead at the entrance to my cubicle.

Spread out on my desk was a black drape with three tea lights flickering in front of a 12-inch high tryptych on foam core. Each panel featured a scene from the Passion as rendered by El Greco or Caravaggio, except for one small detail: my face had been superimposed in each painting from photos taken at various company functions. The most comical was the last panel, the scene after Christ's body was removed from the cross. In place of Christ's face stood my beaming visage—goatee, grin, and all.

I don't think I could ever have been handed a more perfect indictment of human frailty and impotence than those images. While they poked fun at an aspect of me that I didn't really want to acknowledge, they also helped me to come to terms with my own powerlessness, my own pretension, my own egocentricity. I wasn't going to save the world. I wasn't even going to save my coworkers. I had to let go and accept that I couldn't fix anything without a whole lot of assistance, not the least of which was the assistance of that God whom I'd left behind and tried to replace.

*Not his real Basque name.

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