“Do you want to be healed?” he asked. He smelled like cinnamon and pepper and cut through our stink, all of us unwashed, honey pots next to us. Yes, his eyes were fierce. But they looked straight through me to the fields I used to run through when I was a boy.
“There’s no one to help me into the water when the angel stirs it.” It felt good to say that, to say, “Poor me.” Besides what kind of question is that? My legs are froze solid as ice in winter. Do you know how hard it’s been, seeing a something slither out of thin air, slip into the water and it ripples? And then to hear the shouts of joy when someone is healed, time after time?
Do you know how hard it is to watch sheep after sheep washed, knowing each will have its throat slit? To smell the meat roasting on the fires? Do you know how hard it is to wait until my sister’s little boy brings me a portion? How hard it is when he squinches up his face at the smell—the pool, my soil pot, my friends. Yes we stink, but it’s stink that knows we are alive. Do you know how I don’t care that he sets the plate down, pretends he doesn’t hear me ask for news in the family, and runs away like it’s a game of tag.
Do you want to be healed?
His voice was insistent. His eyes looked past the fields to the day I fell off the roof, landed wrong, and broke my back. The wind blew out of my lungs. I thought I was dead. I wished I was dead. Moses said I set before you life and I set before you death. Choose life. I tried to jump up but my legs. My legs. My legs. My legs. Men picked me up and carried my sobbing inside.
The rabbi prayed for healing:
Then came the awful day they said the pool was my only hope, the dreadful pool where the priests washed the sheep before their throats were slit. They set me down so I could lean on a stair step. With a clay pot for my feces. They left a bag of bread and yogurt, dried lamb.
Do. You. Want. To. Be. Healed?
My thoughts raced. I don’t know. Who would I be if I stood up and walked? A priest’s servant girl brings figs and dates. I hold onto her smile like an orange I can slowly peel and suck the juice. My friends are here. We talk about the people who walk by. Make up stories. We help each other. I can’t just leave them. Who would tell stories about angels and fire and writhing darkness if I wasn’t there? Why isn’t he offering to heal everyone of us? Why has he come to me and not them?
I heard Moses’ voice, saying I set before you life. I set before you death. Choose life. I heard the voices on Ebal and Gerazim chanting life. Chanting death. But if I choose life, if I say yes, if I walk, something terrible is coming, that’s rising below the horizon, I will have to face that like a man. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to be whole in the world that is coming.
If I choose life how can I forgive my family for leaving me here, for saying they could not wait with me until the angel stirs the water. How can I forgive my sister for sending her little boy and not coming herself? Who would I belong to if not my friends lying here?
Get up. Take up your bed. And walk.
I felt his hand grip mine. The callouses burned my palm. Something like the first rays of the sun, focused through clouds, shot through my arm, through my belly—I thought I was going to lose my bowels right then—and into my legs. My back. I leaned back and stood. I actually stood up and picked up my bed. I looked around and saw my friends’ eyes—full of hope that he might release them. But the man with the fierce eyes was gone. His absence left a hollow ache, like someone had carved out a hole in my belly. Then I used the soil pot.
I walked out of there as fast as I could, my bed a blessed weight under my arm. But the priests put their hand on my chest. “You’re breaking the law by carrying your bed on the Sabbath.” Their eyes were half open. My bed slipped to the ground. I felt the weight of our law pressing down on me. I felt the weight of Exile, of how the prophet said if we did not honor the Sabbath we would become like a desert. We lost our temple, our promised land, because we did not let the land rest, we did not rest ourselves or care for the poor.
“The man who healed me told me to.” How could I say that he was more stern than the law that said, Keep the Sabbath holy. That I’d better do what he said. But four of them boxed me in. My back began to ache. My legs stiffened. A shot of fear. Would they carry me back to the pool?
“Who is he?” the priest with the slippery eyes leaned in. I could smell his breath—garlic, rotted meat, leavened bread rising. Behind him the sheep protested being plunged in the water and washed. “This man who said take up your bed and walk?”
I shook my head. How could I tell them all I noticed were those eyes, those fearsome eyes, that blazed like the lampstands towering over us, when they are lighted at the end of the feast.
“Do you want to be healed?” he had asked. He smelled like cinnamon and pepper and cut through our stink, all of us unwashed, honey pots next to us. And I wasn’t sure I’d said yes when he reached out his hand.
I don’t know.
What a joy it was to enter the temple. I pushed through the crowd, pushing people aside like branches, looking for the servant girl. I chanted the songs of ascent. I wasn’t ready to walk home to my family.
The man with the fierce eyes touched my shoulder. “See you’ve been made well. Sin no more unless a worse thing comes on you.”
I already know something worse will come. I feel it in the stones. I have heard them say, “We will be thrown down”. I heard the sheep cry out, “Stop, stop sacrificing us.” Something awful is rising. I’m afraid to face it standing on two feet. What will my family say? How will I forgive them?
I pushed through the crowd. “It was Jesus,” I told the priest. Jesus. Their eyes tried to look fierce but they melted into something as murderous as the Roman soldiers beating a woman who stood in their way.
I faded into the crowd. I heard him say, “He who has heard my voice has passed from death to life. Someday the dead will hear my voice. And those who hear will live.” I heard Moses say I set before you life. I set before you death. Choose life.
I walked home. The words of the Rabbi’s prayer came back. “Now I know that the Lord has delivered His anointed one, answering him from His holy heavens with the mighty saving power of His right hand.” His breath settled over me like prayer. I walked past the man with the fierce eyes. His body shredded on a cross. The light gone from his eyes. I wanted to take his hand like he took mine, but it was nailed too high. I looked at the dust. I heard women wailing like the sheep bleating at the pool.
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