In T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, we meet with a variation of the story of the Road to Emmaus from Luke 24. In Luke’s account, two men are walking on a country road to a town called Emmaus. along the way, a third man meets them and walks with them, asking why they are troubled. One of them, Cleopas, says, “Jesus was supposed to resurrect and redeem Israel.”
Then the third man, whom Luke identifies as Jesus himself, starts to tell them everything from the scriptures regarding his resurrection. They’re all like, cool man, cool, but really sad he didn’t come back like he said. Jesus essentially facepalms as he’s telling them all this stuff about himself, saying that people, even now, cannot see him. These other two just kind of nod along. Later when he breaks bread with them, they realize who he is.
Eliot used this motif but tweaked it in The Waste Land. His version may or may not include a vision of Christ, but it certainly alludes to the confusion of the ones on the road, and their inability to put two and two together:
Who is the third who walks always beside you?When I count, there are only you and I togetherBut when I look ahead up the white roadThere is always another one walking beside youGliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hoodedI do not know whether a man or a woman—But who is that on the other side of you?
The sense of disorientation is highlighted in this passage. One person talking to another, seeing a vision of a third figure, but not knowing whether to trust the image. Is salvation walking beside us, or is it a mirage, Eliot’s characters ask.
At the Mount of Olives today–sorry, Olive Garden, I meant–I had a similar experience while breaking bread with my wife and child.
They ate no breadsticks. I ate three. Or was it four? Was there a fourth breadstick walking beside the others? Did I imagine it?
Sometimes they bring four. Sometimes three.
I ate all that they brought.
If I ate three and blamed myself for four, that would be cruel. If I ate four and only held myself responsible for three, that would be a mercy. Were there three sticks or four?
Dish 1: Linguini, 5 (4?) -cheese marinara on side, fried shrimp
Dish 2: Linguini, grilled chicken
Dish 3: Linguini, vegetables
Breadstick Count: 3? 4?