I was just walking.
My sons were with me. One ran ahead, the other held my hand. He was a bit younger, just beginning to walk fast and confidently, still somewhat afraid of falling. Head too big for his body.
The older was fast, darting through the crowd full of tax collector tables and busy buyers and sellers. His sandals kicked golden dust up on his calves and the hem of his tunic and colored his dark skin yellow. He was swift, and I could hardly keep up.
We were headed home for lunch. It had been a long morning, and we passed by the temple where worshipers gathered by the hundreds. We were heading out of the countryside and into the upper city where my wife would be waiting on us with the meal ready.
The crowd thickened as we neared the northern side of the city. I called my oldest to me and held the hands of both sons. The people were smothering, tightly woven together and impossible to break. We threaded them slowly, moving forward inch by inch until we reached the edge of the street. I noticed the dense people were spectators of Roman guards walking down the street. The road was cleared for these walking soldiers, and the crowds were congested on both sides. But we had to cross.
I held tightly to the hands of my boys and pushed us forward. I saw a crowd coming up the road, and I knew we could make it across before they arrived. I stepped into the street, and a heavy hand fell on my shoulder.
The guard’s eyes were a bright hazel. His look pierced me. He glanced at the boys. “You,” he said. “Come here.”
“But my boys…”
“They can come too.”
I asked what I’d done. He gave no reply.
His grip tightened as he pushed us toward the crowd approaching on the road. At first all I could see was red. The blood seemed to be running down the street. It was walking, falling towards me. A disheveled heap of torn skin and protruding bone and pouring veins.
And there was a cross.
It was looming over the bleeding Man, over the crowd following Him, over everything. It darkened the grey sky. It cast shadows on the bystanders surrounding the street. It hid the sun.
The guard shoved my back. “Carry it.”
I stood in shock. I questioned. I pushed back. I begged.
They lifted the cross to my shoulders as my sons cried. The Man collapsed when the load left His arms, and they kicked Him. I flinched.
The Man stood up and hobbled forward in front of me. I took up His cross and followed Him. I stepped in His footprints and stared at His torn heels. He shook all over. The mammoth cross was heavy, and I didn’t know how He’d managed it before. I shuffled forward, dragging the foot of the cross in the dust, leaving a snaking trail for the jeering crowd to follow.
The cross was splintered and ugly and covered in blood. It stained my hands, my shoulder, my cheek—the small wood grains cutting into my fingers. It was the weight of the world as we walked. I bore the cross, His blood covered me. It felt as if the blood was seeping into my clothes and my skin—like it would forever be there no matter how much I attempted to wash it off.
I began to sweat, my lungs heaved. And the Man silently sang.
I don’t think anyone else ever heard Him—the crowd was cheering, the guards yelling too loudly—but I was following closely behind. And with each ragged step, I heard a new note uttered from His cracked, blood-stained lips. His body was ripped, but His song was whole. His soul was peace. What Man is this? What has He done?
And as I carried His cross, His song carried me. We walked together, this peace-singing Man and I, my sons trailing closely behind. We approached the hilltop, and the guards told me to drop the cross. I set it down and looked at the Man’s face for the first time–soft eyes painted on a battered canvas.
They shoved Him onto the cross and pulled out the nails. I gathered my wailing sons in my arms and turned them from the hilltop. We raced down to the street, passing staring and shouting crowds. The blood that had stained me stained their tunics and painted their tiny arms.
• • •
And now age seeps through my cracked skin and dried hair and tired eyes. That day seems like a lifetime ago—carrying the cross, hearing of the Man’s death, marveling that He came back to life. My boys are grown, and I think they remember that day better than I do. They live their lives for this Man—the One whose cross I carried. In a way I guess they carry it now too.
Sometimes I feel like I still carry that cross, like it weighs on me every day of my life. Like it throws shadows over everything I do and every word I say. When my head hits the bed each night, the questions come, and the answers never do. Why not someone else? Why me? Why that day?
I will never know why He chose me, but that is how I think of it—how I know it was—He chose me. The guard was merely a pawn. The cross was never too heavy for Him. But He wanted me to carry it, to be a small part of that day that began like any other. I still wonder to think of it, how I woke up to an average sunrise, an average workday, and entered the city with my boys.
I was just walking.