Whenever I travelled I always gravitated toward places of worship. I’d go to all the Churches and temples in the town. I’d attend mass in Sweden, Nice, France and in Haiti. When the Mass was said in a language I couldn’t understand I had nothing to argue with.

The spring after my brother Kevin passed away I booked a flight to San Miguel Allende, a desert town about 4 hours north of Mexico City by car. Friends, a couple of ex-pats from the States, offered me a casita in their house to come. Their love included walking around the mountainous town full of sun and love.

       Two weeks out from Easter Sunday, Mexico had already begun its month-long Easter celebrations. Though most of Mexico is considered culturally Catholic, other pagan customs are also woven into the way they celebrate.

            At one point Mexico was shaped by any one of the 66 indigenous cultures. Near San Miguel, the Chichimecas, inhabited that area for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years prior to colonization by the Spanish. Apparently, the people were drawn to that area because of the many hot springs and as a result, built pyramids to honour the Gods for their gifts of abundance. When I took a walking tour of the pyramids outside the city I was shocked that this small pyramid stood on a desolate land, that we would consider a desert. With no visible water to be had, ancient Chichimeas managed to eke out a life in communion with nature, and because their lives were always on a dangerous precipice of drought and starvation, a lot of their practices involved ritual and human sacrifice to keep the Gods on their side. After the Spanish invaded and decimated their ways of life, forcing Catholicism down their throats, many people retained their customs in secret. This melding of faiths is called syncretism which is defined as an amalgamation of different schools of thought. Interestingly enough the Aztec religion was already syncretic before the Spanish invaded. 

       Now in modern-day times, what you have is a big spiritual soup. Part prayers and prostrations and part non-alcoholic jello shots, fireworks that go off every hour and balloon rides outside the Church which I still don’t understand if there is any religious connotation.

        The Friday evening preceding Holy Week is dedicated to the Virgin of the Seven Sorrows. Throughout the town, altars spring up and overnight vendors, in mule-drawn wagons, ladened with clumps of wheat, descend into the town selling their wares. These tiny sheaves of grain, combined with bitter oranges, gold foil, and pictures of the Virgin Mary decorated altars in windows and doorways of homes, in courtyards of businesses, and in gardens of guest houses as throngs of people walked through the residential area. 

        Back home at St Clair West, there is a melting pot of Portuguese, Brazilian and Cubans who celebrate Easter with parades and reenactments as well, but if I’d have written off this pilgrimage as old-time Catholic, and walked on by But here the parades seemed exotic. W

          As we walked through the streets, our phones lighting the way, some people invited passersby into their homes. I was waved into one abode bending down to avoid hitting my head on the low overhang of the doorway. Inside, a beautiful twenty-something woman with hair done up in a scrunchy wore a blue razzle dazzle shirt and rhinestone studded pants, handed me a miniature cone cup, the kind my dentist gives me when she tells me to rinse my mouth. It was full of blue crushed ice resembling slushy.  “This is the Virgins’ Tears. ” the woman said in perfect English.

Without a second of caution, I licked a concoction of blueberry ice cream with a hint of lavender peaking through. The Virgin’s Tears were delicious.

Good Friday in my house was fasting till supper, saying 1000 Hail Marys before 3 pm Mass, as my mom made us clean the house. The prayers were done on the honour system and by the time I hit my teens I was just faking it all. Every time my mother walked by me I’d sweep and make a buzzing bee sound, blurting out numbers like 345 or 732,  like some savant. I wanted her to think I was on track to meet my quota: this annual sham I would often refer to as another bunch of Catholic bullshit.

          But the following Good Friday, I went to the live reenactment of Jesus’ Crucifixion. Crowds had quadrupled from the procession the week before and people had come from all over Mexico and the globe to say the rosary in unison. We sounded like locusts were about to descend. Throngs of people made the long walk up the hill from Calvary as actors reenacted the day of the crucifixion. Jesus came into view and the crowds parted as passed us carrying the cross on his back an older woman whispered to me that he was the best Jesus out there working today. I wanted to ask how they knew this but I didn’t have time as Peter came into sight, and Jesus shook his head in his disappointment, “Peter did you betray me.” Peter shook his head no and roosters crowed not three times but as a constant soundscape in the background, If you can’t hear a rooster crowing or a dog barking you aren’t in Mexico.  The crowd played their parts. Some jeered at Peter. Instead of offering vinegar-drenched rags, as in the origin story, some women offered Jesus sips from their plastic water bottles. It pissed me off that they weren’t choosing a more green option. Wasn’t Jesus an environmentalist? When ‘Jesus’ sipped the liquid he was offered I pursed my lips together I had been quenched as well. The heat and unrelenting heat reminded me of the shrine I went to as a kid but instead of a bunch of repressed white people walking around a field, with bad haircuts and a-line skirts, this was an exotic wildly enthusiastic crowd. Wholly interactive some taped the whole thing on their phones while other people cried out for Jesus to end their suffering. A few crawled on their bloodied knees beside him as he and the two thieves made their way across the square of stones.

       At the top of the hill, Jesus was tied loosely to the cross. A man tied the ropes tighter and Jesus flinched.  Some extras mimed pounding nails into his hands and all I could think of was a thing Sue used to say to me whenever I was hard on myself. She’d take my hands and face the palms upward to the sky and say, “No holes there. You’re not Jesus yet.”  This guy actually was Jesus, at least for the next hour. What kind of complex would that give a person? I saw he was wearing a wedding ring. That must be hard on his wife, being married to the town’s best Jesus. He was the Mick Jagger of Christianity. Every year he’d likely start getting cranky from Ash Wednesday onward. I could just hear the excuses, “I can’t help with the kids, I am going to be betrayed in 40 days.” On Easter Thursday he’d likely have to sleep in the spare room, to get his head in the big game. I could just hear him talking to the dog, practicing his famous line, “Judas was it you?” I found myself getting into a mental fight with fake Jesus for being so selfish. In the course of five minutes, I married, divorced and got back together with him several times. When I looked up at the cross his head cocked to the side piously, and I tried to meet his gaze with not so much as a blink. How could he not blink? Was he like those blackjack dealers in Jamaica or the Queen’s Guard donning bearskin hats outside Buckingham Palace? They had been trained not to react to buffoons. I smiled at him. Once, then twice and I got nothing. I get it, you’re a method actor. You didn’t get to be like the Daniel Day-Lewis of Jesus, without focus.

       There in the Mexican sun, I was trying to get a guy I didn’t know who was playing a saviour that I neither worshiped nor thought about from one end of the year to the next to like me. If he smiled at me what would that accomplish? Despite all my years of hard work on myself, I was basically the same needy person I always was. I was people-pleasing Jesus.

       A cloud passed overhead blackening the sky and right on cue,  Jesus died. Everyone took a sigh of relief and applause broke out. After a few moments of reverence people began to disperse, a man with a white collar, packing a gun and a big belly, waddled toward the centre of the square. “Come back Sunday for the big finale.” Then as he peeled the foil off a Cadbury egg he’d pulled from his top shirt pocket more big-bellied men let Jesus and the thieves down from their crosses. One of the older women who gave me the lowdown on Jesus said, “See you on Sunday?” I smiled and nodded but I had no plans to return for the sunrise hunt for Jesus.

I might have believed in the resurrection on a personal level but I didn’t think dead people, even saviours, came back from the dead. Or if they did they didn’t communicate with me. My sister said that on the morning of my Dad’s death, she heard him say goodbye and saw his spirit fly from the hospital window. I was sitting right there and had been up with him as well, but I didn’t get so much as a sayonara.  My cousins are always getting visitations from their dead mother and father in the middle of the night. But in my experience, dead people don’t come a-calling.

    Most days this doesn’t bother me because I am mean as a snake if woken up in the middle of the night.

    Why would they, because I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. Heaven. Hell. Reincarnation. Nothing  “How can you believe in nothing?” Kevin would ask me.  “I believe we live and die and that’s that. Which I think is very brave of me. It means if I am good to you for absolutely no good reason.” 

    As I made my way down the hill a man that smelled of booze sidled up next to me and said, in an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, “He will be baaaaack.”  I turned around to see a ragged scruff of a guy, shorter than me. He could have been 40 or 60, the age was hard to tell. Once handsome, with chicklet teeth, he looked like Ross, from Friends, in the episode when he got his teeth whitened. He was wearing a red short polo shirt and then I recognized him as one of the thieves on the cross to the left of Jesus. Gestus or Dismas? I can never remember which one was the good thief or the bad one.

     “Hi, you did a really good job, up there.” I was gushing like a groupie. What next? Was I going to tell him I liked his shirt? “

“Vienes el domingo abuela.” he asked.  Are you coming back Sunday Grandma? I was delusional enough to take this as flirting with me.

Damn girl, you still got it. I gave a rather chaste reply.“Gracias señor tal vez”. Perhaps.

      So I did get up before dawn and Jesus was there, of course, surrounded by Mary, Martha and the other Mary, but the thief was nowhere to be found.

Three days after I got back home, to Canada, I woke up from a dream that was so vivid I couldn’t shake it off for the entire day. It actually paralleled a scene that had happened to Kevin and me. A moment I had forgotten when Kevin was in the season of the endless hiccups. I was on the side of the bed, where Kevin lay, massaging his back because he could not get comfortable. He looked up at me and said, “I don’t know what I did, but you always got so mad at me.”

 “Kevin, I’m sorry, really sorry I hit you with a frying pan.”
“Well, I was likely to be a pain in the ass.”
“Okay, maybe. But I’m sorry I picked on you. We all picked on you.”
“Yes, well, but we picked on you, too. You were ‘the weirdo.”
My hands stopped rubbing his back and I defensively said.
“I think I was more of a leader.”
“No, you were the weirdo. Those long stories you said that no one cared about.”
He began to laugh and reached up and between hiccups said, 

    “You’ve been terrific in all of this.” 

    “Kevin, it’s been my blessing.” 

     For a split second the curtain opened wide enough for me to remember what good I had done when he was dying. In some circles that not be the resurrection but for me it was close enough.



The Belleville show on April 20 has 5 tickets left.



My 4-week writing memoir class starts April 16th and we have room for 2 more people. Reserve Your spot here.

Mother’s Day Mother of All Mothers Day Show with Barb Johnston is at the Comedy Bar on May 13, 14/ Brand new comedy, with great songs and stories by 3 featured writers. Our Mother’s Day show is NOT your Hallmark card version of Mother.  Buy You and Your Mom ( or that woman that you loved as a mother ) a ticket!