I feel a sharp prick in my hand and I awake at once.  As my eyes go in and out of focus I see what seems to be the top of a tent just inches—or miles?!—above my head.   Where am I?  Nothing seems solid.  I must be dreaming, either that or seasick on dry land.  I half-fall out of my bunk and stumble five steps sideways to the right and then another two to the left before I reach the tent flap.  I fall through the entrance and land on my face.  Hot sand.  The desert, yes, that’s it.  We left our shelters and the promise of food and drink in order to lose ourselves in this trackless waste, to choke on dust.  It was better there.  We were safe.

I lift my face off the ground, but still can’t see straight.  My throat wants to scream but is too dry to croak.  The sand burns, oh it burns.  I push myself up on my elbows and see my hands below me.  One hand and arm has swollen beyond belief, three times its normal size.  Only then do I notice the pain, a pulse growing louder and louder until venom takes my whole being in its grip, running up my arm and clutching at my heart.  Why am I here?  What is it worth now that I’m sure I’m dying?

I weakly get to my feet and start to stumble forward.  I will run until I am far from the others, in a hidden place where I can die.

But suddenly I’m surrounded by a group of people, shouting my name, pointing at me.  My head starts to swim again and the faces blur in and out of focus.  I recognize no one.  They won’t let me pass and draw the circle tighter around me.  “Let me go!” I scream and lunge out with my good hand, the other hanging useless at my side.  The sky and ground seem to flip places and I tumble to my knees.

No one moves, nor will they let me go.  I cannot escape.  Angered that they should see my suffering, I stay fallen and with my good hand cover my head in shame.

“Make way!” some of the men shout.  And as the crowd grows silent I peek through my fingers and see someone’s feet standing beside my head.  “Look up!” a powerful voice commands.  Why should I?  Why should I let the others jeer at my pain?  I don’t move.

“Look up!” the voice commands, more urgently, “there is little time.”  Still I refuse.

Two strong men lift me on either side and start to pry my arms from around my head as I try to shield my face and my tears.

“Take away your hand,” the voice says slowly and gently.  “Look up, and then you may go and do whatever you wish.”

To end the torture, to escape the stares, I let fall my hand.  The man stares at me with compassion, in his hands a pole several times his height.  He points at it, upwards, with his finger.  I look up and feel a shiver through my whole being.  I don’t have to look at my hand to know that the swelling has disappeared and I have been cured.  It’s as if I’m tasting life for the first time.  People continue to talk and point, but I ignore them all.  I have eyes for only one thing: the bronze serpent set at the top of the pole.

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15

Photo Credit: Michela Balzari