leaning back against the weight of lifting them

Posted by on April 20, 2011

Into Hell and Out Again

By Scott Cairns

In this Byzantine-inflected icon
of the Resurrection, the murdered Christ
is still in Hell, the chief issue being

that this Resurrection is of our aged
parents and all their poor relations. We
find Him as we might expect, radiant

in spotless white, standing straight, but leaning
back against the weight of lifting them. Long
tradition has Him standing upon two

crossed boards–the very gates of Hell–and He,
by standing thus, has undone Death by Death,
we say, and saying nearly apprehend.

This all–the lifting of the dead, the death
of Death, His stretching here between two realms–
looks like real work, necessary, not pleasant

but almost matter-of-factly undertaken.
We witness here a little sheepishness
which death has taught both Mom and Dad; they reach

Christ’s proffered hands and everything about
their affect speaks centuries of drowning
in that abysmal crypt. Are they quite awake?

Odd–motionless as they must be in our
tableau outside of Time, we almost see
their hurry. And isn’t that their shame

which falls away? They have yet to enter bliss,
but they rise up, eager and a little shocked
to find their bodies capable of this.

* * *

For a long time I’ve mistakenly believed that it was my job to bring that internal village of disparate people–the one that supposedly lives inside of everyone– into harmony. Until I accomplish this, I thought, until I reunite them, make them come and cooperate and sit down for just one meal at the same long table within the rambling house of my thoughts, I would finally feel settled in my own identity. But no one cooperates. Some dress in a suit and arrive early while others forget and are found wandering the opposite way in rags. The meditation on my family is ever-broken. There are too many of them and they are too different–rough-hewn and delicate, serious and humorous, engaged and withdrawn. If I had more information and if someone, long ago, had only thought to put numbers on the pages, I could order them into an image of my own face.

If there is a reason why this project is discouraging, it may be because it is not possible. I can know the things I know. Sometimes I can know new things, if I ask new questions to someone who might be able to answer them. That has happened. Sometimes I can know old knowledge in a new way, all of the sudden. That has also happened. But I cannot take what I know about my family and use it like ingredients, as when cooking without a recipe, experimenting until I find the perfect blend that is the real me, based on some mixture of them, or some old message I heard from one of them or another.

A far more possible, reasonable, and even enjoyable task, even when it involves something like work, is to bring myself into harmony with myself–that one who has always been present to me and, however uncooperative, is far more cooperative than anyone else in the village.

So I can let my relatives–living and departed–go. I can light a candle for them. I can bless them while I look at their photographs. I can look at the resurrection icon and put them there, in the place of Adam and Eve.