While perambulating the Old City of Jerusalem on a visit to Israel back in 1970, I am – probably “accosted” is the wrong word considering the nature of the unexpected approacher – I am unsolicitedly engaged by a nun, wondering if I was interested in visiting the “Stations of the Cross.” I don’t know if this matters, other than as a standard for calibrating my startled bewilderment, but I had never had any involvement with a nun before in my life.
Her age was indeterminate to me. Dressed top-to-toe in the traditional “habit”, all that was availably visible – I did not look at her hands unaware if that was permissible – was her face. Which was entirely unlined. I had previously witnessed a similar phenomenon, struck by the startling unfurrowed countenance of an enderly… I don’t know, monk, I guess… while visiting a Santa Barbara-based mission.
It appears a belief in the Deity eradicates wrinkles.
Okay. I am a stranger in a strange land, and a – respectfully – Daughter of Jesus has just offered me a tour. Though I was understandably nervous in the company of… wait, was I nervous? Thinking back now, I surprisingly wasn’t. An emanating placidity relieved my habitual discomfort… with people I don’t know… more so people of other religions… and even more so than that, people who do “religion” for a living. I’m not even that comfortable around rabbis.
But I love history. Stepping into the past, rubbing shoulders with Antiquity, getting “B.C.” dust on my loafers. What then could be more up my proverbial alley than visiting “The Stations of the Cross”?
The path Jesus walked on the way to crucifixion…
And the sanctified stops along the way.
Casting reticence aside, I excitedly said, “Sure!”
And off we went.
Me and a Sister.
It’s funny. As I recall – and I could easily be mistaken; it was more than forty-five years ago – there were thirteen designated “Stations of the Cross.” But I consulted Wikipedia. There are apparently fourteen.
Since my visit, could they have possibly have added another “Station”? Or could my tour guide have hastily skipped one, figuring, “He’ll never know the difference, and I am late for my Vespers.”
Nah, there were probably fourteen. (What was I thinking, impugning the integrity of a nun?)
My reaction? I guess I/m kind of a sucker for these things. Abraham’s Cave. The Sea of Galilee. “The Stations of the Cross.” I once stood next to legendary Maple Leaf goalkeeper Johnny Bower and I was literally shaking in my sneakers. “The Stations of the Cross” are on exponentially loftier plateau. (Although that Johnny Bower experience was pretty amazing.)
So there I am, traveling the “Via Dolorosa.” That’s not Penny Lane or Route 66. That’s in the New Testament!
Jesus, dragging the cross, stumbling, pulling himself up, getting some water. I am visiting the epicenter…
Where the Giant of an Enduring Religion once trod. Possibly the Creator’s offspring.
And now, me.
The last stop on the tour was a hole in the ground, thought to be the spot where the actual crucifixion took place. As with each “Station” along the way, I was duly educated, with illuminating specificity. My guide unquestionably knew the terrain. Lucky me. Were I a believer, I would have attributed our encounter to being more than simply an accident. Sidestepping the “spiritual”, I appreciated the random fortuitousness of the event.
And now it was over.
I enthusiastically thanked my theological companion for her wonderful presentation. And went happily on my way.
Only recently, nearly half a century later, did it occur to me:
“I should have given her something.”
Not meaning to blame her, but that’s the trouble with the pure in heart. They never ask for anything. Not even a donation for charity. Somehow, you are simply supposed to know.
I swear to you, it totally never crossed my mind. “Tipping a nun?” How much do you give them? Maybe I was too excited to think about it. Or maybe I’m just cheap. No “maybe”, however, about this one:
That Sister needed to be compensated.
I wonder what she thought of me.
“Hey! I just spent an hour showing him the holiest landmarks in our religion. That’s got to be worth something!”
No. That’s me, projecting. The woman was too nice to have thought that. She probably just prayed for my eternal soul.
And I’ll tell ya. If it turns out there’s some post-corporeal reckoning…
I’m going to need it.