At some point, my life became strange. Or maybe my life remained normal and I became strange. Or both.
It’s been strange for quite a while now. I’ve dealt with it being strange by pretending that things are okay. That my life is pretty much just what I want it to be, thank you very much. No, crying in your sleep doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like I’m screaming. Or that it happens all the time. Just… more often than I would like it to, considering everything.
When life hand you lemons you… ah, shit. I don’t make lemonade. I say Jesus Christ, what am I going to do with these lemons? And then I pretend they aren’t there. Because after a while, the lemons can just become part of the scenery. Lemon yellow is a very pretty color. And when lemons dry out, they smell spicy, and turn a nice shade of yellowish brown.
Through it all I have had something I held on to, to remind me that life was not always strange, or that I had not always been strange. If you have read Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, it was the equivalent of Sam Vimes’s cigar case. (If you haven’t read Night Watch, go read it. It’s one of Pratchett’s best Discworld books.) It was a silver cross I had gotten in Hildesheim, Germany, at the cathedral gift shop.
I had gotten the cross because of the rose bush. Hildesheim is the home of a rose bush planted by Charlemagne, of which the locals are very proud and which has been a tourist attraction for centuries. You look at it climbing up the end wall of the cathedral, its blood red blossoms against the modern red brick and you can’t help but be impressed.
That’s right — modern red brick. The end of the cathedral — and the rose bush — took a direct hit from a shell during World War II. The locals mourned their cathedral and their rose bush and their shattered lives. And a year later, in the spring, rose shoots sprang up from where the bush had been. A thousand years is a long long time, and the rose bush had put down roots strong and deep enough to withstand being bombed into oblivion.
I liked that. Something promising about that story. So I had bought a cross in the gift shop. I didn’t pay any attention to the name, or the history, or anything other than it was from the cathedral with the rose bush.
A cross is a symbol of resurrection; a cross from Hildesheim doubly so. While Jesus rising from the dead seems remote and unreal — a matter of faith, certainly — the rose bush rising from the remnants of its tattered roots is tangible, solid. Maybe God sends us the reminders of His presence that we can use best.
I held on to that cross for ten years. It helped comfort me through long nights and painful days. Through hospital stays and childbirth. Through the death of my father, and the discovery of my son’s autism.
It went with me everywhere: no mere piece of jewelry, it stayed around my neck unless I was absolutely forced to take it off — which meant it stayed on except for when I had x-rays, CT-scans and MRIs done. Which was what I was having done in September — a CAT-scan — when the cross got lost. I took it off, and in the confusion (and the fact that I was falling asleep) afterwards, forgot to put it back on. It’s not been found.
I have been devastated by this loss. It was not “the last straw” — there is never one of those in life. One deals. And it was a simple thing, a little thing. But it meant more to me than any other piece of silver I’ve ever owned.
The cathedral had a museum, which had a website. In German. Which I don’t speak. And it does not have online gift shop ordering. I couldn’t even name what it was that I was looking for.
Tonight I was sitting working on a post on alienation, on community, on how I feel one and not the other, and how I write maybe to break through one and create the other… when I found myself Googling “Hildesheim.” It took an hour of searching, including several false leads (going through the medieval art collection at The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the ceremonial cross of Countess Gertrude), but finally …
I found my cross. At least, I found the cross that I had a silver replica of. The “Bernward Cross.”
I am going to replace this cross. I need all the reminders of hope that I can find, these days. As do we all, I think.
Remember the rose bush.