Clinging to the Cross
I studied that picture for years. I imagined lives for that woman. I tried to draw other pictures like that one. When I read stories that kept me on edge waiting for the disaster to overtake the storybook character, I imagined that character clinging to that cross and getting home safe. When I sang “The Old Rugged Cross” that cross in the picture is the one ........
As a writer I’ve written about people who clung to the cross. In Bread Upon the Water, a boy in South Vietnam, fleeing his country to follow his calling to the priesthood, is forgotten in a refugee camp. While others around him despaired, he pasted a paper cross on the wall using the sticky water that had cooked his rice. The cross was made of bits of paper detritus, garbage really, that he picked up around the camp. It was a large cross that everyone could see on the wall of their hovel. While the world around them raged in war and crumbled, the people in this camp took solace, hope and comfort in Tien’s paper cross. They added to it, meditated near it, prayed around it. It was something solid to cling to.
The cover of my new release, Rock and a Hard Place, A Lithuanian Love Story, shows a place called the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania. It is estimated that over 100,000 crosses have been placed on this dome shaped hill in northern Lithuania. In 1831, when Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities on a hill fort, the bodies of perished rebels could not be located. It’s believed that’s when the crosses began to appear on the hill. Since that time crosses, crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, carvings of patriots, effigies and rosaries have appeared on the hill, carried there by pilgrims. The Soviets bulldozed the site at least three times, the last in 1973. Though the Soviets worked hard to remove the crosses, it remained as a venue of peaceful resistance. During the years 1944-1990 when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, the people continued to travel to the hill, leave their tributes and to demonstrate their allegiance to their Lithuanian identity, Catholic religion and autonomous heritage. In 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses and declared it a holy place of hope, peace, love and sacrifice. A stone inscribed with his words is near the hill saying: Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land. The hill is under no jurisdiction. The people are free to carry their crosses to the hill.
As we all are. Must we always wait until that’s all we have before we cling to it, before we carry it to the hill?