24 Dog Days Are Over

Otis says, “Let’s go to Rome. I think Chu Dai Hing will love it. I want to go there for her.” Otis is always very loving to Chu Dai Hing. He is really becoming my inner child’s living “boy next door.”

We arrive in ROMA and Otis promptly pulls another Room 16. He finds a deal and lands us a huge apartment for a quarter of what we pay in LA. The apartment is located about 15 minutes outside the heart of Rome. No problem, we take the bus. Everyday we go to town and we eat: pizza, spaghetti, pepperoni, fish, cheese–holy cow, Italians know how to eat. And the gelato! Every stand sells their own homemade specials. I have three different kinds of gelato three times a day. And the sights! The Vatican, the Roman Walk, the Pantheon, Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Trevi Fountain! And the art! And the style! And the fashion! Mamma Mia! La dolce vita!

What child is this? This, this is Christ the King. Whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of…the largest religion of the world. And here I am! In the HQ! I feel the jolt of the capital surge through me.

This is the first time I’ve ever been to Rome. I had not thought much about how special this city could be for me. Really, other than the fact that I was baptized Roman Catholic and spent twelve years at a Catholic school, I don’t really think of myself as a Christian. In fact, for me those years were the equivalent of being locked up in a mental institute. I broke free after high school and migrated to America, making a vow never to allow myself to be trapped in any organized religion ever again. I am super sensitive to any type of mental control especially in spiritual realms. Never have I attended a church or temple while services are in session. I do love churches and temples when they’re empty.

Visiting Rome also means going back in time to revisit the mighty Roman Empire. Modern Rome is a museum of carefully preserved remains of those bygone warrior kings. How did a group of people manage to conquer so much of the world? By sheer insanity! Their insane fascination with violence made them tough warriors, brutal to others and brutal even to themselves. If a soldier did not show “bravery” in battle, meaning killing people with relish, he was beaten to death by his own people.

Visiting the Coliseum, I can smell the citizens of the time as they consume alcohol and burned meat, watch chariot races, enjoy jugglers, clowns and elephants and–the highlight–people being eaten by lions. They also stoned people to death, burned them on poles, nailed people to crosses or dragged them behind horses on stone paths. Slow death by bleeding from a thousand cuts. What awful dog days! Can you imagine how painful it would be to die this way?! These were savages.

Then arrives a man who no longer wants to live this way. He thinks that this behavior is not right. He refuses to act in the same way. He says, “You can kill me, I forgive you. I still love you.” His name is Jesus from the little town of Nazareth and it turned out his idea was indeed mightier than the sword. Jesus and his followers became a big problem for the Roman Empire. Eventually, after 2000 years, his teachings changed the entire nature of the Empire. Old Rome was wiped out and replaced by a new Rome. He beat the game so hard, he reset the clock! The winners are now gloriously celebrated in amazing churches. Where have Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, the warrior kings, gone? Have they been reborn as Popes?

So here we are with the Coliseum on one side and Saint Peter’s Basilica on the other. Both sides of the coin: hate and love! I’m just happy that they don’t nail people to the cross in plain sight anymore. Those awful days are over. The fight is now internal. Like my internal fight where I am tittering between hating and loving my man. I know how good I’ve been at hating him, now that we’ve turned a corner can I get equally good at loving him? What can visiting Rome do for me?

One day, Otis and I take the bus into town again. On our way back we’re busy talking and miss our stop. We stand up to get off at the next stop and notice that half the bus is also getting off. It turns out that this is the stop for the Basilica San Paolo, which is the second most visited church in all of Rome after Saint Peter’s. Otis and I feel like bumbling idiots for not knowing that we live a five minute walk from this amazing church.

“Look at this!” We walk around touching the huge columns made of different kinds of precious stones and marbles. Our mouths drop open and our heads crank up. Although we’ve become blasé about jaw dropping churches, the Basilica San Paolo is a bomb. After that fortuitous discovery, I take a pleasant stroll through the Basilica everyday. You can take religion out of the girl but you can’t stop the girl from loving churches.

One glorious morning, Otis asleep, I find myself at the Basilica again. I always enter through the garden that has a huge statue of the Basilica’s namesake Saint Paul, who lived 2,000 years ago. I’ve been coming to the Basilica everyday, day after day, for a month now. At first, I am a tourist whose jaw drops at the grandeur but slowly, I begin to see more.

Saint Paul’s story is carved into the front door of the Basilica in four panels. Paul is an official of Rome, a soldier. He’s on his way to Damascus to kill the stupid people who have claimed to see Jesus–the guy who was killed on the cross.

In the first panel, on the road to Damascus, Paul is knocked off his horse by a vision of Jesus. Paul sees him, alive and glowing in eternal life! Paul is converted on the spot. In the second panel, Paul tells everyone about his experience. In the third, Paul’s former underlings arrest him. In the fourth, Paul is beheaded and an angel hovers over his body, ready to take him to heaven.

It dawns on me that the angel from heaven almost makes me miss the point. Putting the emphasis on what happens to Paul in heaven, is to miss the point of what happened to Paul in physical reality. Paul’s enlightenment has nothing to do with life after life and all that heavenly angel stuff. Paul’s power lies in what he did while he was still alive. Whether Paul is alive in heaven is up to interpretation, but Paul achieved eternal life right here, right now. Why do I say that Paul is eternal? Because right here, Paul is celebrated as a saint. I, a tourist, am reading about his life and am touched by his story. Paul is dead but I’m alive! I too can carry on this good idea. His deed lives on within me and in this way he is still alive. He is eternally alive as long as someone, anyone, even ME, carries on this idea.

What’s the idea?

No matter what the other guy does to me, I say, “I forgive you. I still love you.” Jesus the Christ, Paul, all the ascended teachers, sages, gurus, all say the exact same thing. Love over hate.

Nailing people to the cross, feeding people to lions as entertainment, beating and stoning people to death are not acceptable anymore. If anyone would dare to even entertain the thought of nailing me to a cross, they would get a different response from me! Black stones of hate from my black, witchy heart. Wait a minute! Compared to facing the cross or a lion, I can certainly let go of the little anger I have in my heart for my lover. Have I forgotten that he is my lover? Can’t I be nicer? Can’t I be more loving?

Whatever the reason is for Otis going against me, can’t I be like Paul and forgive him? I want to forgive him for my own benefit because I don’t want this black stone in my own heart any longer.

My lover is an asshole and I am the sweet one. Or, I am an asshole and my lover is the sweet one. No…we’re both assholes and sweet. Sometimes he is sweet and I am bad, and sometimes I am sweet and he is bad–the perfection of the cycle of life. It’s a dolce vita after all, the sweet life with my lover.

As I mull over these thoughts, I walk through the main church. In the center, there is a sunken crypt for the remains of Paul. In front of the crypt is the remainder of a chain said to be the original chain that was used to arrest Paul.

I never make donations to a church because I think it’s absurd to waste so much money on decorations. This day, staring at the chain, I think, well, it mustn’t be easy to keep a chain for that long. This chain is very meaningful to me. I’ve got to give something to these folks. I open my tightly closed purse. As I am about to give my usual one or two dollar donation, my hand takes out a twenty.

After that, for some reason, I feel as if I am part of the church. It suddenly make sense to build something this magnificent, to celebrate the triumph over brutality. This is my church! I can suddenly understand poor people giving their hard earned money to churches.

When I meet Otis later that day, he says, “The guys after Paul went bad and went off on a crusade to kill anyone who disagreed with them.” True, true! The corners of his mouth drop into an upside down smile, “And what about the corruption of the church or the sex scandals?” Yeah, all that bad stuff about organized religion exists hand in hand with something magical. The absurdity of ceremony doesn’t take away from the fact that Paul, Peter and a bunch of guys in the early days personally embraced the idea of peace and love and I can too.

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