CARS BLARED by me, the exhaust wafting my hair. I craned my neck upward, but didn’t recognize the stone church. The gargoyles were more emaciated lions than fearsome protectors or even good luck symbols. It was just a bunch of dirty rock and rusted iron bars.
We crossed the street, dodging traffic, so that we could stand in line among all the other tourists. The sign said Sainte-Chapelle. I guessed I was in the right place. I hadn’t been here for sixteen years—half my life ago.
Inside vendors lurked in the shadows with their tables strewn with crosses, brochures, and bric-a-brac. Another sign told us we were in the lower chapel. I somehow missed the Virgin Mary. She was supposed to be somewhere toward the entrance. We shuffled with the masses to the higher chapel.
Stepping through the tall wooden doors into a soft glow, I gasped and remembered.
Thirteen beautiful stained glass windows bathed me in purple light. As I stepped closer, the reds, greens, and yellows jumped out of the depictions. How could I’ve forgotten this? I held my breath and wandered the chapel. The guide in my hand said that each panel represented a scene from the Bible, heavy on the Old Testament. I found myself in front of the panel at the far end of the chapel. The Passion.
“Mom, what is the Passion exactly?” I said.
My mom smiled, her eyes reflecting the light from the windows. “The Passions of Christ? It’s the suffering of Jesus, until his last sacrifice for humanity. He died to save us.” She spread her arms, eyes lidded, as if she were embracing the chapel, taking it all into her.
I clenched my teeth and peered at the stained glass under lowered brows. Jesus’s passion was humanity. God sacrificed his only son to save us. Supposedly.
My mom wandered away, still smiling faintly.
I marched past the windows, around and around and around. I saw death—birth and death—over and over. Eventually I trudged down the steps into the lower chapel. At the end was a crumbling statue of Jesus. His hair fell down to his shoulders, and the robes hung off his slight frame. His face was gaunt—too young to be so tired.
Watching him, I couldn’t help but feel sad. The stone walls closed in around me as I imagined what Mary must have felt, holding her dead son. It seemed so pointless: the church I was standing in, the royalty that had it built, the people who had killed Jesus, the people who Jesus had saved…. The heavy stones of the church pressed down on me, but I wasn’t Jesus. I didn’t have to bear his burdens. I spun on my heel and walked out, not looking back.