Thursday, December 30, 2010

She Loved Much

   Insects buzzed through the heavy air as the young woman slunk down the dusty street. The dirt was warm under her bare feet as the the red, Jerusalem sun began its descent into the dark palm trees on the horizon. The slam of a nearby door startled her, and she began to tremble. Pushing her dirty hair behind her ear she walked quicker.
   The hunger had started again, two weeks ago. It was impossible to ignore, painful in her chest as if her heart had been tied in a knot.
   She clutched the small pot in her hands with a sweaty grasp and glanced behind her. She rounded the corner.
   She knew sadness. She understood weariness, longing, and regret. But this feeling, this hunger, was different. It was an invisible cord that tugged her towards something that she had never possessed but had always desired. It gnawed on every inch of her stomach as of she hadn't eaten for days. But it was not even that sort of hunger. She felt hunted by it.
   A memory from her childhood whirled through her mind as she came to a standstill in front of the stone gate of a clean house. She remembered her first visit to the temple as a girl, her first sighting of those pure pillars, the first time she had heard the holy words of Jehovah read from a scroll. She had felt the hunger back then, it had hunted her even when she was a child kneeling in the dust of the outer courtyard with the lambs and the doves.
   It was strange how time and living had numbed the hunger for so many years. But now, staring breathlessly into the bright windows of the house, she wondered how she had ever forgotten it. She slipped through the gate and approached the door, heart pounding. She raised her hand and rapped her knuckles against the wood.
   "A minute..." a voice bellowed from behind the door. She became self-conscious of her bare head and shuffled away from the light of the lamps. The lump in her throat choked her. The door flew open. She jumped with fright. The man in the doorway squinted.
  "What do you want, girl?"
  "The rabbi is here tonight," she trembled, twisting her tunic between her hands. "Jesus."
   "The good teacher has just sat down to eat--"
   She ducked between the two doorposts and into the bright entryway beyond. Down the hallway, feet padding against the stone floor. Surprised calls from behind her. The doorway. Bursting through, she caught her breath and fell to her knees. The men reclining around the low table gasped. She lowered her eyes.
   "Rabbi," she began, then choked on her words.
   Despair. What words can describe years of regret and months of hopelessness? What do unclean lips have to say to perfection? The emptiness rose up in her throat. She pressed her face against the god-man's dusty feet and sobbed.
   The hunger had pulled her here, to these feet. Confused, her body shook with the weight of grief. 'Surely I am a sinner,' she thought. 'Surely. Surely. Surely.' Her hands shook as she broke open the alabaster pot and raised it over the man's head. Sweet perfume filled the room. Oil dripped from her dirty hands and onto the man's scarred face, but she didn't dare to meet his gaze.
   She knelt again. Her tears dripped down between his toes, leaving dark paths on his dusty feet. She wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of incense in her nose made her dizzy. The men in the room were talking quietly. Objecting. Then the god-man was speaking.
   "...Two men owed money to a certain moneylender," his rough voice was saying. "One owed him fifty denarii, the other owed him five hundred. Neither had the money to repay him, so he canceled the debts of both."
   She raised her eyes for a split-second. She knew debt.
   "Now. Which one of them will love him more?"
   'The one who owed more, the one who owed a fortune that he could never repay by himself', she thought to herself. 'The one whose heart had wanted to burst from the sorrow and shame of a hopeless debt.'
    How much greater the relief. How much greater the love. A tinge of hope pricked the place where the hunger had rested for so long.
   "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt great cancelled," admitted the man to the left of the rabbi. "He would love the man more."
   "You have judged correctly," the god-man replied. "Do you see this woman? I came to your house, Simon. You did not give me water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair."
   Simon opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it in embarrassment.
  "And you did not greet me with a kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my head and feet." The sweet smell hung in the air with a vivid presence as the man paused. "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven--for she loved much." 
   She sobbed.

"Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Intruder

     My eyes open.
    The sound hits my ears again. Heart pounding, I raise my head from my arms and listen.
    Again. Clink. Clink.
   "It's him..." I breathe. I roll off the couch. The carpet bites into my elbows as I inch forward on my stomach. He was back.
    Clink. Clink.
   The light from the kitchen doorway shines like a beacon onto the floor, fencing in a square of brilliance in a meadow of dark carpet loops. My gaze lingers on the wall where I know the lightswitch hangs, but there is not enough time. A shadow appears against the square of light on the floor then flits away. I brace myself.
    I roll across the floor, my back hits the wall as the sounds from the kitchen cease for a moment. I hold my breath and wait. The sounds continue. I inch towards the doorway and peer around the corner.
    He is in here, but I cannot see him yet. The kitchen floor is hard under my knees as I crawl under the counter. Head down, I blindly feel along the counter top. My hand closes around a weapon. In my grip, I let my finger rest on the trigger for a moment before pulling the gun back down to my side.
    The element of surprise belongs to me. There will be no escaping justice this time. Leaping to my feet, screaming like an Indian, I shoot.
    Dishes fly. Silverware scatters. And a tall glass topples as the intruder scrambles for shelter, whiskers full of butter. But the stream of water from my gun is inescapable, and my aim is deadly.
    Wide-eyed and wet, the repentant cat observes from under the Christmas tree as I replace the squirt gun on the counter and return to the couch to finish my nap.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What happened yesterday and how I feel about it...

Even though I'm an optimist I tend to be very realistic when it comes to death, even fatalistic. Maybe too much so, who knows. To be honest, death makes me uncomfortable and I don't like it. I hate the way it makes people react, I hate the tears, and I hate that sick feeling you get in your gut. But you can't always run away from the stuff that makes you uncomfortable, you know? Life doesn't work like that.
      So that's what is going through my head as I race across our front yard to the edge of 143rd Street in my bare feet. It's easy to forget things like shoes when you're scared out of your wits. I look both ways. The concrete is cold.
      "Is he dead??" is the first thing I ask the man with the black SUV. Only I'm kind of choked up, so the words don't quite come out right the first time. The man shrugs his shoulders and kneels down in the grass.
      "I dunno, I only stopped a second ago. I saw him in the street, I thought he might be alive, but..."
       I kneel down too and scoop the warm little bundle of grey fur out of the bike lane. I suddenly realize why they call it a 'dead weight'.
       The striped kitten had been a rescue from the veterinarian's office I work at; he had gotten used to me as I worked in the kennel area, and I liked the way he would 'talk' to me as I cleaned. It only took a few weeks to decide that he was coming home with me. 'Acquiring excessive amounts of animals, just one of the many hazards of working at a vet,' or so my co-worker had said with a smile. But the cat turned out to be more than a rescue animal, he ended up being a friend. He would come whenever I called him, even at midnight. He would follow me everywhere, right at my heels with a kind of dog-like devotion. But he'd never been so good at crossing streets...
       I pull the body into my lap and stroke the fur. The cars on the street slow down as they pass us, faces staring. Either they have never seen a dead cat before or they're trying to figure out why I'm wearing a tank top in the middle of December. Whatever. I don't care.
      As my dad thanks the man for stopping, I lift the cat and stand up. Blood that I hadn't noticed before smears across my arms and shirt. I cross the street. I've carried him like this hundreds of times before, his green eyes staring up at me out of a whiskered face. Only this time the eyes are glassy and the head hangs listlessly from a broken neck.
     "I'm okay," I tell my mom as I wash my hands at the kitchen sink a few minutes later. "This stuff happens, and it's okay. I'll be fine." She's crying, but I can't find any tears. I just want to be alone.
     What is it about death that bothers us so much? We should all know by now that death happens. It's sudden, it's inevitable, and it can't be stopped. As I drive down the highway that night I can't help but thinking about and remembering the feeling of the motionlesss body where there once had been a kind of life. And I think to myself, "I could be a body on the side of the road too." Just as motionless, just as...gone.
     Death is sudden. And death is tricky, and cruel. You think it would at least give us some sort of warning so that we could say goodbye. But it doesn't, and we can't.
    Like I said before, death makes me uncomfortable and I don't like being reminded that it exists. But we can't live in little bubbles of self-deception forever.

    Death is hard, and it happens. But so does life, you know?  Life happens. And isn't that a greater blessing? I think so.