When the day comes to draw our last breath, what will be the story from all our breaths that will most be remembered? What will be our legacy?
I haven’t always thought of such things. I used to only live for the pleasure of each day, and to make sure that others were impressed by me. Most of all, I wanted my Mama to be proud of me. I wanted her to love me as much as she loved the men, all the men in her life., She’s the one who taught me how to be a woman, from the time I was just a girl. She taught me how to carry myself, how to hold my head; how to posture my body. She knew all the ways that a woman can make a man do whatever she wanted.
I used to dance like she taught me. I practiced in front of the girls my age, and it made them sneer. They were jealous of me; that’s what Mama told me. I practiced my dancing in front of the boys my age, and they were rapt in their attention, but that didn’t do anything for me.
But when I danced for the men, for all the men that Mama held in her hand, that’s when I felt the power. That’s when I knew that I had control over them, and the thrill of that power was stronger than any feeling I’d ever had.
One night, Mama talked my stepfather, the king, into letting me dance for him and all his important friends. I moved slowly, passionately, powerfully. I made each one of my seven veils draw the men in as each one fell to the floor. I had them!
When the dance was over, my stepfather was looking at me like I’d never seen. He just sat there and stared, seemingly unable to say a word. Finally, the words came out. He promised me the moon. Whatever I wanted, he told me, was mine. I felt so powerful; I felt so weak.
I lost my composure and acted like a child; I ran out of the room to my Mama. I didn’t have to go far. She was right outside the door, where she had been watching me. She glowed. She hugged me.
“What do you think, Mama? Did I do well?”
“Oh, baby. I’ve never done better. Now, you can have anything.”
“What do I ask for, Mama?”
For just a second, she looked puzzled, and then I saw a light appear from the back of her eyes. As it moved to the front, the corners of her mouth drew up in mounting pleasure. She leaned down and whispered into my ear. Then she hugged me again, told me how proud she was of me, and pushed me back into the room.
I was fully composed now. I had these men in my power. My Mama loved me more than she ever had. The was the finest moment of my life. I told my stepfather exactly what Mama had whispered into my ear.
And then, just as I had seen the light grow in her eyes, I saw the color drain from her husband’s face. He was not pleased. I began to wonder if I had done wrong. I just stood there and he just sat there. It was only a moment, but it seemed so long. Then he snapped his fingers and one of his men came over.
He bowed down and the king whispered into his ear. Then the man nodded and left the room.
The king motioned for me to come sit on a chair beside him. And everyone else in the room went back to their party – eating, drinking, talking, drinking, laughing.
It was probably half an hour later, when that man came back into the room. He was carrying a plate in his hands. As he moved between the revelers, they parted to form an aisle to the king and me. As the aisle formed, silence came in its wake. Then I saw it.
It was what I had asked for. But the sight was more than I could have imagined. There was a man’s head, blood congealed on the plate and still dripping. The man’s eyes were open. I could see the terror captured in them.
“Your majesty,” he said as he bowed, and the plate with the head came lower, close to the floor with the depth of the bow.
The king simply nodded and tilted his head toward me. “There it is, Salome. Take what you asked for. Take it and give it to your mother.”
I didn’t want to take the plate, but it was pushed into my hands. I held it as far away from my body as my shaking arms would allow, without dropping it. I practically ran from the room. My Mama was in the same place I’d last seen her, just outside the door. She was delighted as she took the plate from my hands, and said over her shoulder, as she walked away, “That’s my baby; that’s my good little girl.”
Is that my memory? Is that the one thing in my life for which I will be remembered after I take my last breath?
I saw another man die. He was a cousin to the first one. The one I killed was John. The second one was Jesus. Although I had killed him, I never knew the first one. The second one forgave me for what I did to John. His forgiveness was more powerful than anything I had done that night of dancing. His forgiveness saved me from my memory, from my hatred of myself and of my family. His forgiveness gave me the power of love.
And I was there when they killed him. And I was there when we found out that he was risen from the dead. In his kindness, John Mark told my story as part of Jesus’ story. He didn’t mention my name in the first part, but he did in the second parts.
I am the same Salome. But when I take my last breath, it will be the forgiveness and the new life that Jesus gave me that will be remembered of Salome. That, thanks be to God, is my legacy. It is the gift that I have passed on with everyone who has heard my story. It is more powerful than the worst thing any of us can ever do. This I know.
(c) March 5, 2013
The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 6:17-28, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
See also Mark 15:40 (There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.)
and Mark 16:1 (When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”)