Thursday, October 18, 2012

From the Catacombs

Just a short trip back to Rome...
We are on a tour descending into the Catacombs of St.Callixtus, the official cemetery of the Church of Rome since the second and third centuries, built along the Appian Way.  Our tour guide Floriana turns us over to our Vatican guide Arcadia — "an Indian studying in Rome to become a priest in Jerusalem," he informs us.  Very quickly it's clear: Arcadia is knowledgeable, committed to his work as a guide, and eagerly welcomes questions.  After our preliminary education we start the descent and the intense heat of that broiling sun soon slips away as we are enveloped by a 50-degree chill.  The passages are narrow and high, the walls, clammy and crumbling, as our group carefully walks forward one or two abreast. 

All of a sudden in front of me a father starts throwing something at his young teen daughter — and I can’t figure out what is going on. But I see her arms struggling to hold about six bottles of water as the Dad takes the now-empty paper bag in his hand and throws it to a huddled group on the edge of the wall.  Finally I see a woman leaning toward a bent-over boy that is throwing up.  We are down in the maze of the catacombs surrounded by stacks of tombs and in that damp darkness, her teenage son is throwing up. 

Everyone is scurrying past; you know how it is, when your kid is sick and gagging — it takes everything for you NOT to gag and throw up. But the mom in me is panicking for them and wants to help.  I have a pack of tissues in my bag and I turn back to give them to the young girl.  “Oh THANK you.” she says, worry all over her face.  As I head forward again another women turns and says "I have some napkins do you think they need them?”

“Can’t hurt” I say and head back to pass them along.

I walk on hoping that they figure out how to get out or that the son will feel better.  I see the young girl with what I suspect is another brother and I realize that I have a plastic grocery bag in my purse so I empty it and think she can use it for all those water bottles she’s cradling.

“OH thank YOU!” she says again and then turns to her brother saying, “We should give this to Mom, we should go back” because she’s thinking of that paper bag and that it won’t hold up. I did not think of that.

It is hard to imagine how these tombs were successfully created without the benefit of modern-day engineering but by God they are a marvel.  It is five levels deep and contains an estimated 500,000 tombs!  You are amazed that the walls are not caving in on you and that  despite the way the tombs were desecrated by robbers over the centuries  it still is an amazing sight to behold. We are seeing the tombs of popes and as we gather in a room where the Christians hid to worship their God away from the prying eyes of the Romans,  I see the tall teen, now recovered but still hanging back abit.  I’m happy he’s feeling better and that they've been able to continue on with the tour. I dig in my purse and find my small tin of Altoid “Smalls” and offer them to the Dad thinking the son may need a taste of freshness in his mouth.

We end our tour with Arcadia’s best wishes and head out along the passageway to the stairs that will lead us back to the brightness and heat of the day.  There at the end of the corridor is the young girl, standing and whispering to her mom.  They are waiting for me.

“Thank you so much,” the mother says to me in what sounds like a British accent, “You were so kind to help us.”

“How is he feeling?”

“Much better,” she says looking relieved.

We smile and pass on, climbing up the stairs from dark to light.  Christopher turns to me and says, “I’m sorry. I just couldn't help.  It took all I had not to get sick.”

I exhale. I understand. It’s a Mom-thing.

1 comment:

  1. I totally get it--it is such a mom thing!