I have loitered outside the Colosseum, for what seems to be months now (maybe years), not quite cowering in the shadows, but nonetheless remaining anonymous and as much as possible, inconspicuous.
I have on occassion been engaged by a fan or a spectator entering the monstrous arena about this or that or dialogued with an active gladiator about their sword, shield, or cause.
But now, motivated by some impulse from within, I spend my last few coins on a last few morsels to eat in a somewhat sacramental and solemn final act of privacy.
I inhale deeply and walk the dusty approach to the stadium. Once again, my inadequacies roll in my guts with that impulse that has moved me from the shadows to the entrance. The final sigh is sighed and I walk forward through the vast, open gates with the rest of the clamoring humanity.
Most of the gladiators are obvious to spot. Their armor is well-polished, the swords are VERY visible and their shields are, as expected, nicked and battered. The only thing more noticeable than their large and unwieldy weapons, are their hearty lungs. Already these warriors have gathered fans and followings. . .
The majority of people, however, are headed for a seat in the stands and most of those are easy to distinguish as well. Their rabid posturing and passionate debates hang in the air like laundry that needs to be dried but not necessarily seen by the neighbors. Their attire is a mish-mash of team colors and slogans and mottoes of gladiators past and present. They move with a purpose. . .but is spectating and sitting in the seat of judgment truly a purpose? (I ask myself this again not for the last time)
But the people in this mob, my mob now as well, that really interest me are the quiet ones, the unobtrusive ones. . .no, not the pseudo-meek kind of the fearful variety or the told-you-so type who never "told" anything until the verdict is already in. . .but the type whose quietness comes from an inner conviction, a stability not born from ease and affluence but the consistency springing forth from steady living in a great Truth.
These are the men and women I try to make eye contact with and gain strength from. . .these are the ones who may be gladiators or may be spectators, or even both. Ones whose swords are not shiny because they are tested, and whose shields are practically unused because of their deftness with a blade. Ones who when they cheer in the stands it is not for verbal violence or vain posturing after a phantom-kill. . .no, they rise and put their calloused hands together only for the skillful and true strike of veracity.
The confidence that radiates from them blows on my small burning coal of hope. . .and because I am lost in that affirming warmth for a moment. . .I fail to realize I have reached the Arch of decision. . .
The marble arch is perfectly shaped, and through it I dimly see the shifting dust of the arena floor. But my sight is cut off by a shadow of imposing proportions. It is my turn to decide. The Keeper of the Arch has blocked my sun and asked me the question I have hidden from for so many months. . .the question I have known the answer to for even longer. . .the answer which has taken me and my trusted rapier to the crux:
"Spectator or Gladiator?" he asks with no malice or warmth.