Ch 59. Tears
The next day Jesus Josephovich’s cell mate was abruptly awakened by the slamming of their prison cell door. Instinctively he leapt to his feet, almost falling off the tiny cot. He was surprised to see that the foreigner was not in his bed. Turning around he saw that the foreigner was on his knees looking at the sky through the small crack in the wall that they called a window.
Three guards stepped into the cell like landlords about to expel an unwanted resident.
“Jesus Josephovich,” one of the guards said.
The foreigner calmly arose and turned to greet several large guards with grizzled faces.
“Good morning comrades,” he said.
The guards did not look like they were having a good morning.
The largest of the guards stepped forward and looked at the odd prisoner. He was a relic of the Soviet era with a huge head and thick neck supported by a massive torso that was made even more intimidating by the wide uniform covering his square shoulders. His fists were the size of a large grapefruit and his fingers were mottled with scars. He was a man that time had petrified into a living stone.
“Go with them,” the muscular guard barked.
The other two guards grabbed the foreign prisoner by the arms and led him out of the cell. They lead him down the hall and placed him in an empty cell. The imposing guard entered the cell behind them. He nodded to the two guards and they left without a word leaving the intimidating guard alone in the cell with Jesus. The cell locked behind them with an ominous clank.
Jesus Josephovich smiled at the old guard. The man did not smile back. He looked around the room as if he were searching for something and suddenly, as if a great weight had fallen from from his shoulders, he sighed and sat on the cot in front of the prisoner.
He looked Jesus Josephovich in the eye for the first time. “Do you know who I am?”
“Of course,” Jesus Josephovich answered. “You are my brother.”
The guard laughed. “If only it was that simple.”
“It isn’t?” Jesus questioned.
“Not for everyone,” the guard grumbled. “Maybe I am your brother. Maybe we are all brothers, as you say, but around here I am the boss. I am the Warden.”
Jesus nodded his head and bowed slightly, politely acknowledging the man as if the Warden’s position were of no consequence to his current state.
The Warden cleared his throat. “I believe in God,” he stated, implying much more than he said.
“I see,” Jesus Josephovich replied.
His heavy, iron voice continued. “When I was a boy I went to church with my mother. We went to church every Sunday. We never missed. No matter how cold it was, no matter how bad the weather, we always went to church.”
Jesus Josephovich nodded with a grin and the Warden cleared his throat again.
“I was a very disciplined child. My father was a police officer. He was very strict. I had to run and exercise every day, and I had to do many chores. Much more than other school children. My mother was strict as well, but it was different with her. My mother was happy when I did my chores, but most of all she wanted me to obey the Bible. She was very strict about the Bible. I had to memorize all the books, and the Ten Commandments, and the sins, and the fruits of the spirit, and she made me promise every day that I would not commit any of the sinful acts.
“I thought she was a little bit crazy, like all moms, until I grew older and I saw that my father was doing strange things. He would sometimes come home very late, and he would speak very strangely and sometimes yell for no reason. I realized later that he was a drunk. He was a very disciplined man, but after work he liked to drink with the other policemen, as most men did. But he began to drink too much. My mother hated it and got very angry with him. One day he came home and they argued, and he hit her. I tried to stop him, but I was too young. He knocked me over and he kept hitting her. He kept hitting her until he killed her.”
He looked up into the foreigner’s eyes. He saw something more than compassion. It was a deep understanding in Jesus’ eyes, as if he had been there himself. A tear cascaded down Jesus Josephovich’s left cheek.
The Warden’s gruff speech continued. “My father went to prison and I helped bury my mother. After that day, I understood what my mother had been telling me, and why she did not want me to sin. I understood the scripture, “Sin gives birth to death.” So from that day I vowed not to sin. I vowed to follow every law of the Bible. I did not lie, I did not steal, I was always faithful to my wife, even before marriage. And I never drank any alcohol.”
“You are a rare man,” Jesus Josephovich declared. “Many priests live lives not nearly as holy as yours. What can you possibly want from me?”
The Warden chuckled deeply. “That is the question. I’m not sure what is wrong with me, but I am certain something is wrong. I became a cop. I wanted to do what my father could not. I wanted to be an honest policeman. I was very good at catching criminals and punishing them for their sins. I soon became the Warden of this prison.
“People think that Soviet prisons are corrupt, but I have always been just and fair. I did not put them here, but as long as they are in my prison I treat every man only as he deserves. I have never killed any man, and I have never harmed another man unless it was for my own safety, and I expect the same from every man that works under me. I have no regrets and no remorse.”
“You are the law,” Jesus Josephovich said.
“In here, I am,” the Warden said with a grin.
“And how do you feel?” the foreigner inquired.
The Warden took a deep breath and scratched his half-shaven neck. “I feel clean. My conscious is clear. But… I am not a happy man. It is strange… I understand that this is not a happy world, there is much pain and suffering caused by these criminals and others, but I thought that if I did everything right it would bring me some… happiness.”
“When are you happy?” Jesus Josephovich asked.
“When I am with my children,” he answered, as if it were too simple an answer to be correct.
“Tell me,” Jesus Josephovich wondered. “Do you punish your children when they do something wrong?”
“Of course,” the Warden said. “I want them to be good children, good Christians.”
“Do you punish them as hard as you punish these criminals?”
The Warden squinted his eyes, clearly confused. “No, of course not. Well, they do not do such bad things, but I am not as hard on them as I would be on a criminal. I am their father.”
“You are their father,” the foreigner repeated. “Now imagine that your children did something very bad. If they committed a terrible sin and they were sent to prison, how would you want them to be treated? Justly, or with love?”
The Warden furled his heavy brow. “Are you saying that I should go easy on these criminals? These are dangerous men. I could treat them much worse than I do and be completely justified.”
“I believe you,” Jesus Josephovich replied. “But that is not what I’m saying. I am saying that you are correct. You are missing something in your life.”
“And what is it?” the Warden wondered.
“When was the last time you cried?”
The Warden leaned back against the wall, stunned at the question. It took him a long time to answer. It was not something a man like him ever considered.
“At my mother’s funeral,” he realized. Something uncomfortably deep began to tug at his heart.
“You have obeyed the Commandments. You have followed all the rules. And for this you are commended,” Jesus Josephovich stated. “However, you have failed to learn one of life’s highest lessons.”
The Warden suddenly stood up, towering over the skinny foreigner. He was insulted by the allegation that he had missed such an important lesson in life. He was certain he already knew what it was.
“Let me guess,” he shouted. “Love. You want me to love these men. You think that if I go and give these criminals a hug that they are going to change. You think that the words “I love you” mean anything to a murderer?”
Jesus Josephovich shook his head sadly. “No,” he said compassionately. “You don’t need to learn how to help them. You need to learn how to help yourself.”
The Warden folded his bulging arms in front of him. “So what am I missing?” he asked with contempt.
“You haven’t learned how to cry.”
Another tear cascaded down Jesus’ opposite cheek.
The Warden lurched back onto the cot and sat with his back against the wall. His face turned red as thoughts whirled through his mind. Crying went against everything he stood for. It went against his job, his hatred of sin, and even against his very ideals of manhood. He had built such a strong wall of strength and stability within himself to protect him from the outside world that he didn’t think it was possible to teach himself to cry. He didn’t have sympathy for himself, how could he have it for others?
“You have only cried for yourself, and this was so long ago that you probably don’t remember how to even do that,” Jesus Josephovich said. “But I say you must learn to cry, not for yourself, but for others. For those that you cannot ever hope to help.”
“I don’t understand,” the Warden admitted with great frustration.
“The law is meant to protect you, but the scriptures are meant to help you be like God,” Jesus Josephovich advised. “God has immeasurable compassion on his children. He feels our pain. To be like God, you must feel their pain.”
“Their pain?” he asked in shock as he indicated to the other prisoners.
Jesus nodded. “Do you want me to show you?”
The Warden took a deep breath, unafraid. “Show me.”
Jesus Josephovich stepped forward and placed his hand over the Warden’s head. He paused for a moment, as if to make sure that this beast of a man could endure what he was about to show him. Then his fingers touched the man’s forehead.
A feeling of rapid expansion overwhelmed the Warden’s senses as his consciousness suddenly enveloped the entire prison. Lifetimes of thoughts, feelings, and suffering flowed through his shattered mind. His own body evaporated in the ocean of feelings and experiences from hundreds of criminals who he had learned to hate with the calm certitude of religious righteousness, and for a brief eternal moment he was each of them. He saw the abuse that had been done to them, he felt the confusion in their minds, and he experienced the agonizing decisions that had led to their criminal acts. More than anything else, he was overwhelmed by their utter hopelessness.
Without warning he was jerked awake from the dreamlike vision, and his body inhaled as if it had been under water. He fell to the floor on his hands and knees trying to catch his breath. Then sobs and wails uttered from his bowed head and tears splashed onto the concrete. Jesus Josephovich knelt on the ground before him, held his hands and cried with him.
The Warden wept as he had never wept before. Decades of emotions flooded through his body and mind. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t even open his eyes. There was no action that could be taken. He could only cry.
The Warden’s powerful back and chest heaved in rolling waves of anguish, expressing a sorrow that few men had ever known. And yet, as the tears subsided, he was filled with an immeasurable joy. He had emptied himself, and something new had filled him. Peace.
His face and hands were soaking wet, baptized with his tears, and as he stood he hugged the foreigner in an embrace that would crush a bear. He kissed Jesus Josephovich on either cheek, as if greeting a long lost brother, and as they looked each other in the eye after that extraordinary bout of wailing, they both began laughing through the last few tears.
“Do you think you can cry now?” Jesus Josephovich inquired.
The Warden grinned. “I don’t think I can ever stop.”
“Good,” Jesus Josephovich said. “Then you should remember this: when you cry for another, you are spiritually connected to that person. When no physical action will help, you must give them your spirit. You must give them your tears.”
“I will,” he promised. “You have given me more than I ever imagined. What can I give you? Let me set you free,” he said pointing to the iron door.
“I am free,” Jesus said. “Let me set you free.”