Ecce Homo

By John Thomas Tuft

I’m sitting on the side of the bed. Every day.  Every… single… day. It’s like this. Always like this. Reach for the bottle of pills. To dampen the pain.  Two or three or four. A few hours later, time to try again. But, as always, the pain mocks my shallow efforts. Life becomes one unending blur of timeless moments in the haze of narcotics. I have been driven into the wilderness.

*I don’t need your answered prayers/Or the chains your lover wears/I don’t need your rings of gold/Or the secrets that you hold/Lift me up…

I’m sitting on the side of the bed. It looks like it rained during the night. The mountain air is cold, crisp. I’m supposed to drive through the mountains for a meeting. I trudge to the car, back it out of the garage. And discover everything is coated with a thin layer of ice. I cannot even turn back into the driveway, perched at the very crest of the mountain. I put it in gear and immediately I am plunging down the steep incline, desperate to make it around an S curve. There is nothing quite so terrifying as a sturdy brick house rushing at you at 45mph. At impact, it is as if the whole earth is shaking on its foundation.

 I don’t need your sacred vow/Or the promise tomorrow brings/There, behind the morning clouds/I’ll take the faith the daylight brings/Lift me up…

I’m lying in the bed. I cannot move without screaming in pain. I’ve just had my third surgery on my spine, I’m home but I cannot move. Even an inch. The pain is paralyzing. The paramedics strap me in and carry me screaming out of the house as my frightened children look on. A post-surgical staph infection. Morphine around the clock, IV and a shot every 4 hours. Into a body cast for 3 months. I must relearn…everything. I’m out of my mind, my soul consumed by this fire.

When the morning bright/Lifts away this night/And the light above/We will find our love/We will find our love.

I’m sitting on the side of the bed. I can’t go on. Always the pain. It is always there. It is Fall. The drop in temperature has brought a cricket inside seeking shelter. I think I hear a whisper. In my haze, I wonder if this bug is talking to me. I shake my head to drive away this demon.  Reach for the bottle of pills. Wouldn’t it be better, I ask myself? Wouldn’t it be better if this was all over?  Done with. Finished. I unscrew the cap. If I swallow all of them, maybe.  Maybe? A fierce wind shatters the rocks around me.

Lift me up, darling/Lift me up/And I’ll follow you, lift me up/Let your love lift me up.

Grace unfolds one petal at a time. Miracles flourish in the soil of welcoming imagination. Hope is tended by tireless hands. Love is a seed… Love is a seed with boundless potential.

I’m sitting on the side of the bed. Fifteen surgeries have come and gone. The pills are over and done. The scars remain. The pain remains. Always. The pain remains. I grunt to my feet. The walker and the cane are stashed away, ready to support the next wandering soul. I limp the long hallways. I traverse my own pathway of tears, strangely buoyant. Unafraid. Is that a breeze I feel, or just a draft over shuddering bones?

I stand at the door and knock. It is opened unto me. Ginny smiles. “Do you ever get a song stuck in your head?” And that is how it came to pass that in the year of our Lord, twenty and eighteen, in the town of High Point, North Carolina, that as we sat together and broke bread together, in that humble facility for the forlorn, the looked down upon, the broken and demented, the hopeless…she said to me, “If I start singing, people will think I’m touched!” And a decree went forth that, by God, yes, we could sing. And so we did; we sang. Amazing Grace, the chorus to The Gambler(one of her favorites), Silent Night/Holy Night, Neon Church, Helplessly Hoping, Comin’ Round the Mountain…

And in that singing, came a still, small voice. “Ecce homo.” And in the fullness of time, I finally realized. It is my pain. My pain is that still, small voice. Ever present, ever whispering, lest I forget. “Ecce homo. Behold the man…”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.

*Lift Me Up, Bruce Springsteen