Continued from Part 2
I approach the throne of Apollo.
Carrying a small wooden chest.
Still slightly hung over from my encounter with Dionysus.
A. So, mortal man!
Have you solved the riddle?
Have you brought as an offering
That which you value the most
And others value the least?
In answer, I place the chest on the ground.
I open the lid.
Revealing an iron ring.
E. Here it is.
That which I value too much.
And others not all.
Take it, along with greetings from your brother.
A. Ah, little man.
You will not get off so easily!
In truth, your Pride is wounded
That you seek to cast it off so quickly.
I tell you, your Pride has value even to others,
For it allows them to predict your behavior.
Nor is it wrong for you to esteem it greatly.
Because without it, you would not have made it here.
In truth, even I am not worthy to take it from you.
You must bear it hence
As part of your quest.
Puzzled, I heft the chest.
E. So then, where must I go?
Is it to one who will relieve me
Of this burden I now find so distasteful?
I knock on the door.
It swings open.
I call out.
E. Hello, is this the home of…
H. Oh! Come in, come in, come in!
Here, let me take your chest.
You won’t need it while you are here.
I am bustled in by a grandmotherly lady.
I can’t tell whether she is an Italian, Jewish, or Indian mother.
Then I realize she is probably the prototype for all of them…
H. Have a seat! Drink some tea. Take your coat off. No, don’t worry about your shoes. Tsch, you have been away so long. Relax! It is so good to have you back home.
E. Um… I’m sorry, have we met before?
H. Of course! I am the god of mothers, and you have been mothered all your life, haven’t you?
She reaches over with one hand, and somehow it feels as if she both pinched my cheek and mussed my hair at the same time.
Even more strangely, I accept it as perfectly natural.
As if I had always known her.
And she knows me.
Perhaps better than I know myself…
H. You must eat something! You’ve traveled such a long way.
E. Thanks, but I’m in kinda of hurry…
H. Nonsense! You don’t even know where you are going, much less when you must get there.
E. Well, no, but isn’t that all the more reason to hurry?
H. No, it is all the more reason to relax.
E. But I thought God can only steer a moving ship.
H. Yes, and right now He has steered you here to me!
I realize there is no way I am going to win this argument. I surrender to her ministrations. Clearly she knows something I don’t, and just as clearly she won’t tell me until she is good and ready.
E. Thank you, that was an amazing meal!
H. [beaming] You’re welcome! Are you sure you won’t have another slice of pie?
E. No, I’m really stuffed.
And I am. But I don’t feel bloated, or guilty. I feel… content. Holy, even. As if I had just partaken of some sacred act.
A thought strikes me.
E. Can I… ask you a personal question?
She smiles and nods, as if she had been waiting for this all along.
E. This place is amazing. You are amazing! This place… it seems the very embodiment of Shalom. I can’t help but wonder… why did the Greeks replace you with Dionysus?
For the first time, I see a shadow of sadness cross her face. I fear I have offended her. I start to take it back, then remember she already knew my question before she agreed to let me ask it.
This is her sorrow to bear.
I don’t have the right to take it from her.
I haven’t earned the right.
At least, not yet.
H. Do you know what a mother’s greatest joy is?
E. When her children come home?
H. Almost, but not quite. Not all homecomings are joyful. Some are due to failure, heartbreak, guilt, or depression. I welcome them all, of course, but is not their physical presence I seek most.
E. Then what is it?
H. It is for my children to long to come home — and know they can — yet be strong enough to stay away on their Father’s business.
E. I don’t understand. What does that have to do with Dionysus?
H. Enough talk! Come help me with the dishes.
I’m not generally a fan of housework. Still, it seems small price to pay for such a (literally!) divine meal.
As we work together over the sink. I am surprised to find myself getting swept up into the flow of it. Almost like the high I get from working on a hard programming problem.
E. This is Eden, isn’t it?
H. Yes. This is the perfect home all humanity came from, and longs to return to. And they will, someday. I too, long for all my wandering children to come home.
She silences me with a glance. Which is probably just as well, as I don’t even know why I was objecting, or what I wanted to say.
We continue washing up in silence. When she speaks next, it is reflective, as if she is talking to herself.
H. As much as I love my children, and want them to be near me, you are not my first love. Your Father is. More than anything, I want to bring Him glory. I want the whole earth — perhaps even the whole universe! — to be filled with grown-ups who reflect that glory.
She turns to me, and I am stunned by both the tears and the joy on her face.
H. And that is why I sacrificed that which is
most precious to me in this world. I knew that if I stayed in Olympus, my children would not have left home. Not from love, but obligation. Eventually they would have grown to resent me. I may have kept their bodies, but I would have lost their hearts.
She smiles, and turns back to her washing.
H. Anyway, that was why I was actually grateful when Dio showed up and offered to take my place. He’s totally impossible, you know. Once a millennia I let him and his friends come over for a party, and it takes a century to clean up! But he is exactly what humanity needs, at least for now.
My heart is burning, though I’m not sure why.
E. For now? But he’s just a distraction. An addiction even! Why do you even tolerate him?
She glances at me sharply. I am uncomfortably reminded that she must know all about my recent binge. I fear she will rebuke me, but when she speaks her tone is wistful. Perhaps even compassionate.
H. I know we seem like opposites, but Dio gives humans a little taste of what heaven feels like, even if they haven’t yet earned it. It is almost like a care package from me to you. It is true some abuse it, which breaks my motherly heart, yet even then I still rejoice in the comfort he brings, however shallow or short-lived.
The washing is suddenly done. She turns to me, and something changes. Her glory, which was veiled, bursts forth. Suddenly I am reminded that she is every inch a goddess, as beautiful as Aphrodite, as wise as Minerva, and as fierce as Artemis.
I fall to my knees.
H. The better question, Son of Man, is why YOU tolerate his dishonor. The day is coming when Dionysus will be justly honored for his millennia of faithful service. When the fruit of his vines will be used only to magnify joy, not cover sorrow or release anger.
I am struck dumb. Something important is happening, but I have no clue what part I am supposed to play.
Suddenly the moment passes. Like a spell being snapped, Hestia is once again a plump matron rather than a towering immortal.
H. Oh my goodness, look at the time. You better hurry up, you’ll be late for school.
E. What? School? But I don’t even know where I’m going!
She clicks her tongue at me, ignoring my protests. She hands me a backpack holding my chest and a brown paper bag filled with heavenly smells. I feel like I am twelve-years old again.
She passes me a thermos filled with water as she bustles me out the door.
H. Hurry up, Charon and his bus are almost here.
I try to protest, ask questions, express my gratitude, promise to return; but she silences me with a kiss to my forehead.
H. Run along, now. You have a busy day ahead of you. [long pause] I will see you again when all is done.
Then the door closes, leaving me alone on the curb.
To be continued