Dead Man’s Shoes

Strange kind of day. Easter Sunday always is for me though I suppose.

I always have a smothering sense of silence on this day, even when I was kid Easter Sunday felt like this.

It is always so very, very familiar in that respect.

I think it’s to do with being raised a Catholic. The importance of Easter Sunday, the resurrection, the whole Easter story, is instilled into you at some subliminal level, so that even on a bright, sunny, yellow day, a sense of sadness and awe is always there, hiding somewhere inside. A feeling you can’t quite point to or describe.

It’s like there’s some sort of schizophrenic pull going on inside you. The rational part of you is looking out the window at the Spring sunshine and trying to convince you that today is like any other day. The season’s have changed, the trees are budding, the daffodils are blooming and all is right with the world.

But that strange doubt creeps in nonetheless. A dullness. Like the sounds have been muted somehow. It’s the other side of the brain kicking in. The side of us that believes in miracles. The side that is awe struck by inexplicable things. The part of us that causes us to be fearful when some instinctive, unseen threat is perceived to be close by.

It’s not irrational as such. More that it’s animalistic. Natural. It’s a willingness to accept that things somehow do not require explanation or understanding. They are just to be accepted.

I always liked Easter for this. This feeling of not quite understanding anything anymore. It’s strange. Unsettling.

When I was small, I would cry for Jesus on the cross. It overwhelmed me. Not in the sense that I felt struck down by grief or utter despair. I think I just really “dug” the drama of it all.

The events leading up to the crucifixion are just so dramatic. What always got me was Pontius Pilate deliberating on whether to free Barabas or Jesus.

Every year at this point in the story I would make concerted mental efforts to somehow change Pilates mind, to make him choose Jesus instead. But every year Barabas would win out and the crowd would bay for blood “Crucify him! Crucify him! ”

The injustice of it all used to enrage me. I could never understand the crowd chosing the thief, nor Pilates “hand washing” irresponsibility. I was always dumsbtruck at the horror of it – the stupidity.

Even knowing that the story does not end on Golgotha, that the resurrection is the final joyous end to the tale, did not placate me. I would always spit at Pilate for ever letting it come so far. Forget the Easter bunnies and the chocolate eggs. For me it was Pilate and his jeering crowd that captured my imagination as a child.

Years later I received Bulgakov’s wonderful “Master and Margarita” as a birthday present. It was an inspired gift from my friend Louise. I marvel to this day at passages on Pontius Pilate. The way Bulgakov imagines the scene. The burgeoning clouds, Pilates seering migraines, the heavy scent of flowers in the garden and the brooding melancholy of Pilate’s dog. The doubts and questions Pilate has as to who his strange prisoner is, his appreciation of this strange man’s philosophy.

It is stunning in its oppressivness, in its vividness, its viewpoint. When I read this, I felt less anger towards Pilate, more curious as to the dilemma he found himself in. Faced with a terrible decision, Pilate errs, his courage as a leader failing him. So Jesus dies.

Funny then that today of all days I should come across a photo from David Leeson. It’s taken in Iraq from the recent war.

It’s the feet of a dead Iraqi soldier. As a war photo it is neither gruesome nor horrific. All there is to see is a pair of worn shoes, the soles almost bear, the leather coming apart at the seams. Ordinary shoes. Not military boots. The shoes of a poor man who has been caught up in circumstances beyond his control. The shoes of some man whose life, and its end, was determined by some other man, in some other place.

I keep looking at the socks, so recognisable, so plain and familiar. I think of this man putting on those socks that morning of his death. The sheer bloody mundane ordinariness of it all. Of shoes and socks.

It makes it all the more horrific somehow. Makes this man, his face unseen, so familiar. Makes his fate seem a little less distant, less unlikely for the rest of us.

I keep thinking of this man, anonymous and dead in some muddy Iraqi field pulling on his shoes and socks while far away some other man, some official, some leader, pondered their decision to go to war. Those two separate events irreversibly connected now in that muddy field.

And I wonder. I wonder what that man was thinking as he chose to go to war. Did he languish over the decision? Did his head also ache and throb as he contemplated the gravity of what he was about to do? Or was he steely in his resolve and firm in his conviction?

What would he think, this steadfast figure, if he were to see the photo of this dead man’s shoes?

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