Years ago, living in a small Texas town working at a manufacturing plant, I became acquainted with one of the engineers who designed the giant drilling rigs I used to build. Because of his investments in the oil fields, he was able to retire early with ample wealth.
He decided to build a giant cross along the interstate just outside of the very small, poke and plumb town of Groom, Texas – poke and plumb: poke your head out the window and you’re plumb out of town.
This gift he gave to the travelers of the Interstate was of his own wealth, so I volunteered my services as an electrician to do the electrical work for him. Even though it was more than 10 years ago, I still think of that often. It was an enjoyment that I cannot express; and only those who donate their time and talents on something like this can understand and feel it. At one point, I even dragged my stepdaughter out there to help.
You must understand, this was not just a big cross on the side of the road, but it also had many statues surrounding it representing the Stations of the Cross. And on a nearby hill, there are three crosses commemorating Golgotha. I took hundreds of photos yet I could only find a very few, but what I found is enough to show the magnitude and the solemnity of this creation.
Below is the base of the center cross on Golgotha. Many items were found there. Many words of love and gratitude. Sometimes, just simple notes.
After working out there on the weekends, I would sit out on the benches nearby and watch those who stopped to view this incredible sight, and began writing down what I saw. I came across these writings the other day and as I read them, I was reduced to tears, still being able to see what I saw back a decade ago. Below is what I had written.
- I saw a young family with two little girls. The oldest, about six, carried a small stuffed animal. The youngest, a little blonde with a smug on her face, about 4, had to touch every statue they looked at. She had to feel the feet of the women kneeling down at the eighth station. She had to reach down and run her hand along Jesus’ back as he lay prostrate when he fell the second time. And I watched her hold his hand as he lay from falling the third time. And I could feel the loving smile that was bestowed on her. I wish I could look ahead to the future and see what becomes of her.
- I saw the simple and loving message scratched into the trampled earth in front of the cross on the hill, before the limestone was in place. Someone had simply scribed, “Thank you.”
- I saw a huge truck pull into the lot, and out clambered a young kid, probably not even 20 years old. He seemed to be in a daze as he wondered about. Sometimes he would sit on a bench, and look around the way someone looks when they don’t know what to do, as if a great tragedy took place and everyone is stunned. He asked me the time. Deep inside I knew he wanted to talk, but I couldn’t. What’s inside of me can only come out as whispers at times like this. Only whispers.
- I saw a wedding take place. Two loving people and a hand full of others came to witness the service. About a dozen more of us stood by, under the shadow of the cross, and watched.
- I saw a woman sitting nearby, watching the wedding with a small bouquet of flowers in her hand. I thought she was part of the wedding party but she was not. Afterwards, she sat on a bench far away and tilted her head back, gazing up at the cross. Closing her eyes, a smile came on her face as if she was feeling the warmth of the Son.
- I saw a man help a woman out of a car and place her in a wheel chair. He moved her under the cross, and knelt beside her. For a long time, he spoke softly next to her. I didn’t hear and was not able to tell what he was saying, but she sat quietly with her head down.
- I saw a short round black lady going to each of the stations with a video camera. She was crying. At each stop, with the camera still on, she spoke the words on the markers out loud; as she continued to cry.
- I saw the plate in which Pilot washed his hands, full of coins. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. I saw dollar bills stuffed in the folds of the garment on the statue of Christ. I saw ones, fives, tens, twenties, and fifties. There must have been 40 or 50 bills.
- I saw one long stem rose placed at the feet of Christ as he stood before Pilot. Pilot never seemed to be aware of it.
- I saw one lone rose placed among the bouquets at the foot of the cross. One lone rose.
- I noticed for the first time, the NHRI message on the top of the cross on Calvary Hill. A message to all who passed by. The original simply said, `The King of the Jews’ but was written in all the languages of the time. The Jews approached Pilot asking him to remove it or have it corrected. They told him it should say, `He claimed to be the King of the Jews”. Pilot firmly stated, “I have written what I have written.”
- I saw a beautiful family sing Gospel songs under the cross. The Merrick Family of Hinton, Oklahoma. I saw the joy in their eyes as they sang of Salvation. I felt their genuine concern for the salvation of others.
- I saw a large Hispanic family wondering from station to station. One of the youngest, a boy of about 3 had to touch every one of the statues. At the eleventh station, where Christ is being nailed to the cross, the little one kicked the statue of the Roman soldier who held the mallet in his hand. Afterwards, as the family loaded back into their van, he ran all the way across the yard to bother the soldier again. He just had to pester him one more time.
- I saw two lovers, probably in their early forties, holding each other in a close embrace. Their eyes locked onto the other’s. As the man spoke softly to her, I saw a look of wonder, of awe on the woman’s face. I don’t know what he said to her, but I felt he was proposing to her. Afterwards, they walked aimlessly, holding each other tight and being very intimate with each other. What a wonderful place to be intimate with a lover! … under the arms of the cross.
- I saw three young people from Alabama, dressed in baggy shorts, with body piercings, and tattoos. They wondered from station to station totally unaware of anyone else. One of them laid down to photograph the 11th station. Later, she laid at the foot of the cross, and photographed its height. I watched them from a distance as they viewed the memorial of the unborn – the Holy Innocents. I saw one of the girls take a seat at a bench near it. I could feel, even at the distance, a deep sadness in her. I wondered if she too, had been one of the victims.
- I saw a woman about 30, wearing shorts, and her legs covered with beautiful tattoos. Sitting on one of the walls leading up to Calvary, she stared intently at the cross in the middle, never once taking her gaze from it. Occasionally, she would move a bit closer. Something was calling her, and she was moving toward it. One of the most poignant scenes I have witnessed at The Cross, was when I crawled into the truck to head home that evening, I looked up at Calvary Hill once more and saw the silhouette of the three crosses against a soft, placid sunset; and on the ground at the foot of the middle cross, the woman sat with her legs drawn up to her chest, and her head tilted back. And I do believe, I saw her wipe her face with the back of her hand.
- I saw two small flat rocks placed at the foot of the cross. On one, someone had written, `money’ and on the other, someone wrote `anger’. I looked for other stones, but saw none. I was reminded of the words, `leaving your sins at the foot of the Cross’.
- Later, I saw more stones with more words at the foot of the cross. Some had the names of loved ones, perhaps those who have since gone. There were also photographs. One looked like it may have been a small child. Several coins were tossed among the offerings. Every time I go to the Cross, I look forward to seeing what has been placed at its foot. What a beautiful place to unload your troubles, fears and doubts!
- I saw someone had left a potted plant of tulips at the base of the cross on Calvary. On it was a card in memory of a loved one. – This is Easter Sunday.
- I saw a group of family members transfixed at the memorial of the unborn – The Holy Innocents. The only one moving was a small girl of about two years. She pranced around like a butterfly smelling the flowers planted on either side of it. I don’t know if you are aware of what the memorial looks like, but it is not unlike a headstone with an aborted child cupped in a pair of hands that extend out of the stone. As the little one stopped her dance to examine the contents of the outstretch hands, she turned to look at her parents for an answer. I wondered what explanation they had.
Many times I wish I could go back and watch the people again, but the good man who built this, or his wife would recognize me and I would lose my anonymity, but it is truly an incredible gift he has given to the world.