Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother-love, unlike any other

About that time two women came down the street from the direction of the Tower of Antonia, approaching the palace of the Hurs. They advanced stealthily, with timid steps, pausing often to listen. At the corner of the rugged pile, one said to the other, in a low voice,

“This is it, Tirzah!”

And Tirzah, after a look, caught her mother’s hand, and leaned upon her heavily, sobbing, but silent.

“Let us go on, my child, because”—the mother hesitated and trembled; then, with an effort to be calm, continued—“because when morning comes they will put us out of the gate of the city to—return no more.”

Tirzah sank almost to the stones.

“Ah, yes!” she said, between sobs; “I forgot. I had the feeling of going home. But we are lepers, and have no homes; we belong to the dead!”

The mother stooped and raised her tenderly, saying, “We have nothing to fear. Let us go on.”

Indeed, lifting their empty hands, they could have run upon a legion and put it to flight.

And, creeping in close to the rough wall, they glided on, like two ghosts, till they came to the gate, before which they also paused. Seeing the board, they stepped upon the stone in the scarce cold tracks of Ben-Hur, and read the inscription—“This is the Property of the Emperor.”

Then the mother clasped her hands, and, with upraised eyes, moaned in unutterable anguish.

“What now, mother? You scare me!”

And the answer was, presently, “Oh, Tirzah, the poor are dead! He is dead!”

“Who, mother?”

“Your brother! They took everything from him—everything—even this house!”

“Poor!” said Tirzah, vacantly.

“He will never be able to help us.”

“And then, mother?”

“To-morrow—to-morrow, my child, we must find a seat by the wayside, and beg alms as the lepers do; beg, or—”

Tirzah leaned upon her again, and said, whispering, “Let us—let us die!”

“No!” the mother said, firmly. “The Lord has appointed our times, and we are believers in the Lord. We will wait on him even in this. Come away!”

She caught Tirzah’s hand as she spoke, and hastened to the west corner of the house, keeping close to the wall. No one being in sight there, they kept on to the next corner, and shrank from the moonlight, which lay exceedingly bright over the whole south front, and along a part of the street. The mother’s will was strong. Casting one look back and up to the windows on the west side, she stepped out into the light, drawing Tirzah after her; and the extent of their affliction was then to be seen—on their lips and cheeks, in their bleared eyes, in their cracked hands; especially in the long, snaky locks, stiff with loathsome ichor, and, like their eyebrows, ghastly white. Nor was it possible to have told which was mother, which daughter; both alike seemed witch-like old.

“Hist!” said the mother. “There is some one lying upon the step—a man. Let us go round him.”

They crossed to the opposite side of the street quickly, and, in the shade there, moved on till before the gate, where they stopped.

“He is asleep, Tirzah!”

The man was very still.

“Stay here, and I will try the gate.”

So saying, the mother stole noiselessly across, and ventured to touch the wicket; she never knew if it yielded, for that moment the man sighed, and, turning restlessly, shifted the handkerchief on his head in such manner that the face was left upturned and fair in the broad moonlight. She looked down at it and started; then looked again, stooping a little, and arose and clasped her hands and raised her eyes to heaven in mute appeal. An instant so, and she ran back to Tirzah.

“As the Lord liveth, the man is my son—thy brother!” she said, in an awe-inspiring whisper.

“My brother?—Judah?”

The mother caught her hand eagerly.

“Come!” she said, in the same enforced whisper, “let us look at him together—once more—only once—then help thou thy servants, Lord!”

They crossed the street hand in hand ghostly-quick, ghostly-still. When their shadows fell upon him, they stopped. One of his hands was lying out upon the step palm up. Tirzah fell upon her knees, and would have kissed it; but the mother drew her back.

“Not for thy life; not for thy life! Unclean, unclean!” she whispered.

Tirzah shrank from him, as if he were the leprous one.

Ben-Hur was handsome as the manly are. His cheeks and forehead were swarthy from exposure to the desert sun and air; yet under the light mustache the lips were red, and the teeth shone white, and the soft beard did not hide the full roundness of chin and throat. How beautiful he appeared to the mother’s eyes! How mightily she yearned to put her arms about him, and take his head upon her bosom and kiss him, as had been her wont in his happy childhood! Where got she the strength to resist the impulse? From her love, O, reader!—her mother-love, which, if thou wilt observe well, hath this unlikeness to any other love: tender to the object, it can be infinitely tyrannical to itself, and thence all its power of self-sacrifice. Not for restoration to health and fortune, not for any blessing of life, not for life itself, would she have left her leprous kiss upon his cheek! Yet touch him she must; in that instant of finding him she must renounce him forever! How bitter, bitter hard it was, let some other mother say! She knelt down, and, crawling to his feet, touched the sole of one of his sandals with her lips, yellow though it was with the dust of the street—and touched it again and again; and her very soul was in the kisses.

He stirred, and tossed his hand. They moved back, but heard him mutter in his dream,

“Mother! Amrah! Where is—”

He fell off into the deep sleep.

Tirzah stared wistfully. The mother put her face in the dust, struggling to suppress a sob so deep and strong it seemed her heart was bursting. Almost she wished he might waken.

He had asked for her; she was not forgotten; in his sleep he was thinking of her. Was it not enough?

Presently mother beckoned to Tirzah, and they arose, and taking one more look, as if to print his image past fading, hand in hand they recrossed the street. Back in the shade of the wall there, they retired and knelt, looking at him, waiting for him to wake—waiting some revelation, they knew not what. Nobody has yet given us a measure for the patience of a love like theirs.
Source: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

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