A Quantum Trek to the Past and Present
Melania pushed the thicket of jasmine, sweet peas and other wild plants camouflaging the wooden door. She reached for the handle with both hands and pulled the door with all her strength. It made an eerie screeching noise as it opened to concrete steps leading to the basement of the two story brick house. To the right of the steps were the stairs leading to the two apartments in the building. Melania lived with her mother on the second floor; a family rented lower floor.
Once she reached the bottom of the steps, she turned to the left until she came to a door. Beside the door was a cupboard filled with empty wine bottles. She knelt on the dusty floor and with her left hand she searched for the key in the space under the cupboard. Then she opened the door to the wine cellar and held it open with one hand while replacing the key back to its place with her other hand. There was some light coming through the small window that made her see the string that was tied to the switch of the light bulb. Melania breathed a sigh of relief when the bulb turned on after she pulled the string. Her attention was directed to another built-in wine cupboard at the end of the room. It was filled with more empty bottles. No one knew that this cupboard was really a door. The keyhole was located under the second shelf from the top. Melania knelt again to feel the slight indentation on the floor. Then from her pocket she reached for the knife she brought and lifted the concrete floor slab. The key was still there!
After she inserted the key to the keyhole, the cupboard began to swing open. To make sure it stays open, she held onto the door with one hand while she dragged with one foot a box of empty bottles near the cupboard. She placed it as a wedge to prevent the door from closing. Then she stood by the threshold. To her surprise there was light coming from the middle of the room. She blinked her eyes several times and there she was—the woman with long hair, wearing a white long dress with long sleeves, holding a candle that showed her radiant smiling face.
Melania had met her several times before. This woman had followed her throughout her life journey right after her grandmother’s funeral when she was only six years old. For some incomprehensible reasons, she knew in her heart that this woman was her grandmother, Fortunata. She was the reason why she came to this place, to see this woman again in order for her to understand why she was following her throughout her life. Before this encounter, whenever she came to see her, Fortunata just sat on the floor in the middle of the room with her back against her. This time she was standing, facing herand smiling.
Melania stood at the entrance pondering whether to greet her or not, when suddenly, the woman called her with a voice that sounded like it came from deep inside herself, yet seemed far, far, away . . . “Melania.” She heard her call with a voice that sounded as if it travelled through many ages. The way she pronounced her name sounded familiar, however. She heard that tone before; and the way the letter “e” was pronounced was the way her Spanish teacher taught the class how to pronounce the Spanish vowels: “Melania,” soft and short “e” not hard “e.” “Could it be her?” Just then the woman lifted her arms, and this time her voice sounded with assurance, “Come, do not be afraid.” “I am not afraid of you,” Melania replied. “I am afraid that I would not be able to return once I leave this threshold.”
It is true , she was not afraid of Fortunata. But Melania believed her soul dwells between her unconscious and conscious. She believed that her soul can temporarily leave these two selves to go to anywhere she wished. This time, her wish was to visit that room again. Here she was, face to face with the one who had been a mystery in her life. Although she had come to this place several times, she never ventured to cross the threshold. She was afraid she might not be able to return. If she came back late, her conscious would meld with her unconscious would not allow her soul to return to her body which would mean that she would stay afloat in the air forever.
Yet she wanted to know if this woman was really her grandmother—she wanted to feel her loving arms that once held her when she was very young.gush Melania remembered her grandmother cuddling and placing her head against her warm and sweet smelling chest. That smell was still fresh in her memory. All of a sudden her thoughts were interrupted by the voice saying, “Come, I’ll tell you why I am here.” Remembering her predicament, she said, “I am afraid I will never be able to go back where I came from. The last time I came to this door, I had only a few minutes left to avoid a catastrophe.” “I’ll see to it that you go come back on time; I promise.” Fortunata assured Melania as she summoned her with both arms.
A gush of wind coming from the outer room pushed her inside and she saw that Fortunata was walking towards her; Melania wanted to turn around and run away, but she seemed to be pulled closer towards her. As soon as she touched the woman’s arms, Melania’s fears disappeared. They stood for a while in warm embrace. Deep in their embrace, Melania felt secured and comforted. Throughout her life she felt something was missing—as if there was a gap in her heart. In those moments of intimacy the gap in her heart was filled.
Taking Melania’s hand, Fortunata led her towards the end of the room where to her surprise there was a door that was ajar. Fortunata pushed it wide open and Melania thought that she was going to be blinded by the bright sunlight. After blinking several times she realized that they were in another world. Before them was unbelievable scenery. There they were in the middle of a village surrounded by mountains on one side and by the ocean on the other. Melania noticed the people dressed in attires sewn like that of Fortunata only in different colors. The women’s heads were covered with hijab (head scarves) the men wore long tunics, and some of them wore head coverings. When Melania looked at her clothes, she discovered that she too was wearing the same attire and a hijab over her head.
“Where are we? What are we doing here?” She asked in astonishment. We travelled back in time, almost two thousand years before you were born, but after Christ’s resurrection.” But how can that be? You are my grandmother, are you not?” Melania was not only perplexed, she was also getting fearful. “Yes, I am your grandmother and I know what you are thinking, but trust me, you will get back on time. I am now going to explain to you why we are here. Come, let us sit down.”
Obediently, Melania followed Fortunata toward a fig tree by the side of a grassy hill facing the sea. There they sat and for the first time, she saw the face of the woman that intrigued her for many years—round, with high cheek bones, deep set brown eyes. Her thick eyebrows seemed to meet and her long black hair and olive face glistened as she spoke. “My name is Fortunata; I lived in Caesarea in Palestine towards the end of the third century after Christ. The governor’s son wanted to marry me, but I refused because I could not turn against my Lord, Jesus the Christ. Emperor Diocletian was persecuting believers at that time and he had me arrested. Later, my brothers were executed because they refused to help the governor’s son in his desire to have me.”
Melania was more puzzled by what she heard. “But how did you become my grandmother? How did you know me? What do you want from me?” “To answer your first question, I must tell you that I have been travelling for almost 2000 years waiting for you to look for me. It is true I am your grandmother, because I lived in her. She died at the young age of 45 because of grief when your uncle and aunt did not come back from the World War II. Since then, I had protected and guarded you from dangers and troubles that came your way. Now I feel it is time for me to go where I belong. But I need to pass on a coin that was given to me by the great, great granddaughter of St. Joanna. St. Joanna as you know was one of the women who were present during the crucifixion of our Lord. Once you get it, you have to guard and keep it. When it is time for you to join me, you have to pass the coin to someone, not necessarily your offspring, but someone who is worthy and reliable so that she too may be able to pass it on to the next generation after her.”
“Where is the coin?” And what is its significance? Melania’s interest became more intense at the mystery that Fortunata revealed. “I left it between the slabs of stones in one of the prison walls in Caesarea where I was imprisoned for sometime before I was executed. Archeologists had just dug a wall of this prison. It is the same cell where St. Paul was imprisoned for three years. We are not very far from the prison from where we are now, so if you don’t have any more questions, we better go.” Fortunata was already standing when she finished her sentence.
“But, who is St. Joanna? How did she get the coin?” “You have read about her in the Bible, in the Gospel of Luke. Remember the women who followed and provided support for Jesus’ ministry? She was married to Chuza, the steward of Herod. Joanna was also with Mary Magdalene, and they both went to the grave to rub the body of Jesus with spices. But they did not find the body. Instead, Jesus appeared to them alive. Mary and Joanna were the first to report to the apostles about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.”
Fortunata continued, “St. Joanna wanted to pass the coin from one generation to the next until the end of time, when Jesus will return to earth. At that time, the person who has the coin will dedicate it to the Lord. You also asked me what the significance of the coin is. The coin is a symbol of faith and devotion to the Lord; these two virtues sum up all the virtues mentioned in the sacred Scripture.
After Forutnata spoke, Melania noticed that they were swiftly transported to an archaeological digging site. There were many people dressed in different styles of clothes walking all around the place. There were many groups listening to guides who were explaining and pointing at the steps and walls of the edifice. “These are tourists who came to see the prison. Come let us start looking for the wall.” She wanted to ask Fortunata about this, but she had a more important question. “Grandma, I have one more question. How did you come to live in my grandmother?”
“Like you, my soul has the ability to travel through time and space. I live in two worlds, the past and the present. I go to the past when my soul travels to where I was originally born. I always know when it is time for my soul to come back to the present. But one day, I got carried away and I was late in coming back. My conscious and subconscious melded and my soul did not have any place to go. That is why I am still living in the past and in the present. As soon as I have to fulfill my task on earth, then I would be free to join my loved ones in heaven.
Melania and Fortunata were now in front of a wall that showed the marks of centuries of years gone by. “I remember facing the sun from that direction and the wall was on my right. So this is not the wall,” Fortunata stated with her eyes closed trying to remember which wall it was where she hid the coin. No, definitely, it's not this wall. It is that other wall. “Come, hurry,” she says as she pulls Melania to the other wall. This wall was lower and more worn out than the first. “It could have been torn down and damaged through time, or in the process of digging, Grandma,” Melania was getting discouraged. “I agree but I had inserted it about a foot from the ground, so I think that if we have the right wall, it would still be there.” Fortunata said with confidence.
They decided to start on both ends, Fortunata on one end and Melania on the other. They patiently went from slab to slab checking each crevice for the coin. Suddenly Melania noticed that people didn’t seem to mind her getting in front of them. She asked to be excused when she got in the way of the tourists, but they didn’t seem to hear her. “Grandma, I’m invisible, “she cried. Fortunata threw a kiss to her and pointed to the walls, which means they still have a long way to go. She continued her search satisfied that she now understood why some people were wearing modern clothes and some people wearing early century clothes.
It must have been after an hour, when Melania felt a slight dizziness and difficulty in breathing. The air suddenly felt dense. She was sweating and was about to faint when she heard a resounding, cry—“I found it!” She saw Fortunata holding something with her right hand. Melania walked to her and saw the coin. “This could be it do you see the image of Emperor Tiberius on one side and Empress Livia on the other? This is called the Tiberius coin. It was the medium of exchange during Jesus’ time . . .” But Melania could not answer; the chest pain was getting more severe and this worried her. She looked at her grandmother and she whispered as she gasp for more air, “I think it’s time for me to go.” Fortunata dropped the coin in Melania’s pocket and placed one of her arms around her granddaughter’s waist; both women started to walk. She was experiencing so much pain that she had to close her eyes and bit her lower lips to ease the pain.
Suddenly Melania smelled flowers she was familiar with. She knew that they were transported back to the present. When she opened her eyes she was already in front of a familiar door. She turned to Fortunata to ask her when they’ll see each other again, but she had already vanished; there was no sign of her. However, there was no time to lose, she must reach her bedroom as fast as she could, so Melania opened the door but as she pushed it she heard a thud and the sound of shattering glasses. She realized that the empty box of bottles she placed as a wedge to prevent the inner door from shutting had been squashed by the wind pressure from the outside. It had been shoved to the outer room. Now the door to the outer room was shut tight. “What am I going to do? Grandmother, help me please, I can’t get out!” She screamed as she turned and ran to the other door where she just entered. “It’s open!” She exclaimed with relief. The moment she stepped outside, she recognized the fragrance she smelled when she just returned from Capernaum. It was coming from the jasmine bush where the slab door was. She followed the fragrant smell as she struggled to walk around the house. She surmised that it must be around one o’clock in the morning, because no one was astir on both floors of the two story house.
“Thank you Lord,” Melania sighed as soon as she found the entrance to the cellar. To her right were the steps that lead upstairs to their apartment bypassing the first floor apartment. Her chest pains were getting worse—she could hardly climb the steps. “O, God, please help me, I want to live to tell my story.” She prayed as she crawled her way up. Finally she reached the top of the stairs and still on her stomach she pulled herself towards the bedroom and then onto her bed. As she pulled the bed cover she heard her mother calling her name. “Melania, Melania, what is happening with you? Are you are having a nightmare again? What’s wrong?” She could not respond because she could hardly breathe . . . she’s running out of air . . . yet she struggled to open her eyes and saw her mother, Juliana, hovering over her with fear on her face. Although her feet were numbed she tried to wiggle her toes as she lifted her hand to touch Juliana’s face. “What is the matter with you? You’ve been moaning for 15 minutes and you won’t respond!” Melania took one deep breath that gave her enough oxygen to fully return to consciousness. Fully awake now, Melania slowly got up to start telling her story: “O, Mom, you wouldn’t believe where I’ve been. I was with this beautiful woman and we’ve been to Capernaum . . . she said she was my grandmother.” She excitedly began. But her mother interrupted, “O, Melania, you just had a bad dream; let me get you a glass of water.” “But Mom . . .” But Juliana had left for the kitchen.
Melania decided not to continue her story; Juliana would not believe her anyway. Just then she felt the coin in her pocket. She took it out and quickly put it back. She told herself, “As of now, “I am going to keep it to myself. Grandma Fortunata may still come back.” She sat on the bed as she reached out for the glass of water from Juliana. She drank the cold water and after giving back the glass to her mother, she laid down. “I feel much better, Mom.” She remarked, absent mindedly. She was thinking of her grandmother. The name, “Fortunata,” stuck in her mind. “I hope you can sleep better now without having any more nightmares.” Juliana said after she kissed her on her forehead.
Juliana turned off the light and left for her bedroom. Melania could not go to sleep; many thoughts crossed her mind. “Was I really with my grandmother? Were we really in Capernaum? Will I meet her again? “No, it was only a dream,” she whispered to herself. She turned on her beside lamp and took the coin out. It was real. “I must show it to him,” she whispered and then she turned off the light, pulled the cover and went to sleep.
Note: Fortunata was a martyr in Caesarea, in Israel, reportedly with her brothers, Sts. Carphonius, Evaristus, and Priscian. Her relics have been venerated in Naples, Italy, since the eighth century.