The Life For Me

A poem of historical fiction

I saw him first; a primitive; some son of working man,

the muscles in his hands and arms too small and weak to wave.

His mother was a girl herself, his father rough and tan,

when I saw them taking meager shelter in that cave.

I saw poor men and animals pass by that dismal place,

to where the mother held that tiny baby on her knee.

Then soon enough, they would move on, quickening their pace,

and I thanked God in Heaven that was not the life for me.

No sign of riches was there in that den or in that hay,

no pretty decorations to distract the baby's eye;

the child dwelled within that hollow, frigid night and day,

drawing open sympathy whenever he would cry.

I saw him second, soon enough, when rich men came to town.

The business that they brought us saved my family some ills,

they had gold and gorgeous gems; enough in which to drown,

bringing precious riches from their place in foreign hills.

But they faced no adversity; those kings from further east.

Others followed their commands, and gave them everything.

They had some wealth and glory, I thought to myself, at least,

but not the kind that makes for songs about which people sing.

Then they did one thing that I could barely comprehend,

giving to the baby wealthy gifts of gold for free.

The only things they seemed to do were fritter and expend,

and I was very grateful that was not the life for me.

I wanted not the shame of kings, at the place I dwelt.

No debasement did I crave; no men to call me lord.

What I wanted was much more, a thing that I had felt,

great deeds and mighty victories beyond a man's accord.

When he was an older boy, I saw him working hard,

making chairs and tables at his father's working bench.

His skin and hair were dirty, and his hands were worn and marred,

as he slaved away each day, amidst the sawdust stench.

For years and years, he worked that way; a craftsman at his trade.

until he was a man himself; tall, strong and full of glee,

but every time I saw him wielding hammer or saw blade,

I was totally convinced that it was not the life for me.

The struggles of his life drew my sympathy a bit,

every time I watched him craft another desk or door,

but by itself, there was no glory to that filth and grit,

and in the end, I couldn't help but think his life a bore.

Then suddenly, he did one thing that took me by surprise.

He left his work, and went beyond the cities where he'd grown.

Going off into the desert, far from prying eyes,

where, for greater than a month, he must have been alone.

When he returned, he seemed much changed. His eyes were all aflame.

He had an open boldness when he spoke to everyone.

He started preaching in the hills, and soon attracted fame,

unafraid of burns as he withstood the midday sun.

He spoke with great authority; charisma, strength and skill,

as if a mighty general, addressing all his men.

The monstrous crowds that followed him produced an awesome thrill.

I thought I saw what life would truly satisfy me then.

The call of revolution burned within my empty heart.

The bugle's call had sounded, and the chance for glory loomed.

At last, I moved into the streets; my plan about to start.

And soon, I'd started up rebellions, though each one was doomed.

Others looked to me for hope, though I could give them none,

while the carpenter from the cave spoke on of hope and peace.

Such things were not enough for me. Even if I was undone,

I knew my life of violent revolutions couldn't cease.

No hopes of glory lay beyond a life of peacefulness,

dreams of conquest were fulfilled only by those who fought.

So I took the cheers and praises of the suffering oppressed,

striking their great foe until the day that I was caught.

For days, I lay imprisoned in that dungeon at their base,

waiting for the governor's call, to send me off to death.

More than once, their stinging cords left scars upon my face,

though I never let their torture change the rhythm of my breath.

I showed no weakness to my captors, bore their hardest whips with pride,

until they took me out to face the governor at last.

Then, the calm demeanor I'd been proud of truly died,

because the man I saw there was the figure from my past.

There he was, the poor man's son; beaten, scourged and worn,

having clearly gone through tortures worse than mine by far.

He looked at me with eyes as filled with pity as with scorn,

no moan escaping from his lips, despite each stripe and scar.

The crowd that stood off to my left, the governor at my right,

barely seemed to even have a presence by his side,

until the governor asked them which of us to free that night,

and my name; "Barabbas," was the only word they cried.

I stared into the poor man's eyes, in horror and despair.

That was not the way that I had wanted things to be.

As much as I had pitied him, twas more than I could bear.

To be in debt to him was not the life that was for me!

They had to drag me from that place, so furious was I.

The soldiers threw me to the ground outside the governor's court.

The people walking on that road bore witness to my cry,

while I mourned how that poor man's boy had been my last resort.

A noble war... a noble end... Those things I'd tried to gain.

The struggle and the pain was just how things had always been.

It was only then I realized that I'd spent my life in vain,

because the life for me was in the hands of other men.

The moment that I realized that my life was not my own,

I ran with all my strength to where the poor man's son had gone.

I found him pulling on a cross, with each new, weary moan,

as vicious, pagan soldiers used their whips to drive him on.

At last, he came to Golgotha; the place they call the skull,

and there they placed him up on high, to let his blood drain out.

Yet in my heart, despite the sight, I felt a deathly lull.

Though many others taunted him, I'd not the strength to shout.

At last, three hours from that time, he gave one final cry,

and all the world around us seemed to tremble, as in fear.

The sky turned black over our heads, and as we watched him die,

spirits of the dead rose up to stifle every sneer.

The things we saw up on that hill were more than strange or odd.

They went beyond my senses; far enough to make me grieve.

So when I heard the soldier say he was the son of God,

I knew, from that day forward, that I would always believe.

Still, the dreams I'd always had were with me as I left;

the endless, dark desires for the life that I had craved.

Whims like those had driven me to murder and to theft,

and yet, to give them up seemed worse than never being saved.

For three whole days, I walked those streets, tormented by that thought.

The life for me was one of war. I knew that to the bone.

The son of God had always favored peace when he had taught.

To think I'd have no part in that made me feel quite alone.

But peace was still a rotten thing, I thought within my soul.

It gave no opportunities for glory or for gain.

But then, a bright light covered me, midway through my stroll,

and suddenly, I felt his presence; sweet as desert rain.

I turned to look in disbelief at what he had become.

Each inch of flesh, each thread of cloth gave off a beauteous glow.

A clarity surrounded him, which nearly struck me dumb,

and when he turned his hand to me, each red nail-mark would show.

"Why are you unhappy?" he asked me with a smile,

"Few others have been given such a great, enduring grace."

I'd thought about that very thing, over that last half-mile.

I still could not abide the thought that he'd died in my place.

As if he saw within my thoughts, he spoke to me again,

"Can you not see glory when it's hidden in disguise?"

"No," I confessed to him, on my knees just then,

"but if you can, please help me see as you; with different eyes."

"There is no need." God's son replied, "This cross is yours to bare,

but I will tell you something that will make the trip seem brief.

At the end, each faithful one will rise again, to share

in the glory you see now. Choose goodness and belief."

"If you truly want a life for you; with glory grand,

if you want a life of precious power and delight,

then place the choices of this life into my father's hand,

and do as he commands you, every day and every night.

Love both God and neighbor; drink from suffering's bitter cup.

Die to the life that you have here, and to my father plea.

If you do this, on the last day, he will raise you up,

and you can live a life of glory, as he gave to me."

Then no more words he said to me, rising up like wind,

and in a second more, he'd left, with speed not unlike light.

But from that moment, how I felt was pleasant, not chagrined,

because the life for me was finally within my sight.

This is why I chose to help you, though you know my past.

This is why I preach the word of Jesus on my way.

The life for me is not this one, I realize that at last.

To get that life, I'll practice love and charity each day.

I've seen the rich, the poor, the strong, and none of them were right,

until the moment I saw him, and he helped me realize,

I still crave war, but I'll serve peace, following his light,

if only it'll lead me to that great, enduring prize.

I have a battle I can fight; a battle without swords.

A battle to accept the gift by which I can be free.

My path is set; and I'll pursue those great, divine rewards,

and then, I'm sure that I'll have found the life that is for me.