She is more available than desirable, more open than inviting and more used than experienced. She is the person you visit, the thing you do when there is no one or anything else going. She is, well, disposable. Too many before me have called her, “special” for it to be true. She really was “a nobody” compared to someone with my status and credibility. She had someone once, a husband, a modest man, who truly thought she was special but he too soon realized her ability to please was limited to the physical as she continually disappointed in the area of, let’s say, fidelity. She is the one you run to in the secrecy of night and deny her existence and your union with her while the sun is up. Very ordinary, she just isn’t worth much.
The last time I saw her was the day in which my life changed. It was a cool, cloudy day. It was the kind of day where a blanket and an open schedule are more appealing than accomplishments and tasks. I ventured out about the town, bored with the blanket and the open schedule…oh, and my wife…oh, and my placement in the community. I would be lying if I claimed my wife satisfied me. Don’t get me wrong, she is a good lady but she seems incapable of stirring the man within me, you know, making me feel like a man. I would be lying if I claimed the social pressures placed on a man in my position could be anything but daunting and burdensome. I would also be lying if I claimed the other woman hadn’t crossed my mind, especially since she asks so little in return and seems to be a respite from my everyday life. I might just happen to “be in her neck of the woods” and drop in. It wouldn’t be the first time, for me…or others. “Dropping in” is almost expected for a woman like her. She will be pleased with someone like me returning for “a next time”. She has long ago surrendered the hope that the promises made at midnight would bear fruit in her future. I am not even sure she heard the words anymore. She seemed hollow, numb and void of emotion. In retrospect I can’t blame her and in fact I now have pity on her. At that time though, her voids and numbness presented more as opportunities for me than they did as shame and pain for her. Once I had greeted several about town and caught up a bit with the social scene, I knocked on the threshold of my old acquaintance.
I was so happy she was there, elated really. She smiled her obligatory smile and I entered quickly while no one was watching. I knew our appointment assignments in life and that I had no business being with someone like her, married or not. But, but, well, she was good for me? Good with me? Maybe she made me good for me or with me…I simply don’t know why I returned again and again. She felt good, her arms around me usual, her lips familiar and her body comfortable. Our times together had never been Earth changing but had always quenched a thirst. It was the thirst for the easy, the drink of the unattached. No real emotional depth, no true emotional connection and no authentic love…yes that is it. She made it easy for me to be the hero. She didn’t require me to court her, swoon, communicate, share my day-much less my life, be romantic…she only required that I be present when I wanted to, available for myself and loyal to my own whims. What a woman! Completely without concern for her own desires, wants and needs and seemingly infatuated with me. Of course, she wasn’t. She couldn’t be infatuated with a different man so often and though one part of me knew that, the dominant part of me wasn’t going to let little things like truth, intimacy or love get in the way of my easy release valve.
I quickly found my way back to our usual place, embraced as real lovers do. I say “Quickly”, because no pretense existed about why I was there and also because our little soirées had to be secretive. What if the other leaders knew about my real life? I would be eliminated from leadership, maybe even from life. Such disgraces aren’t taken so well in my town and I knew the call of the woman and the seeking of pseudo-validation wasn’t without risks.
Before our session was completed but well after it started we heard a commotion and then saw the shadows of several men pan across the mud wall of her bedroom. As we both turned in fear I saw the religious leaders, my fellow leaders standing there, angry, glaring at us with disgust and maybe a touch of jealousy…knowing some of their sandals had also been under her bed and that their hands had felt her warmth. No one was discovering a virgin land with her and we all knew it…but no one had been so blatantly caught in the act before either. As I realized our plight, I returned a promissory glare. Though my heart still raced deep within my sweaty chest, I knew they would be unable to charge me because I would quickly tell everything I knew. If I was indicted, we would all be indicted and they knew it. A close call this was, but it wouldn’t be the death of me…socially or literally.
I assumed we would all be leaving in our separate directions since I wasn’t going to be charged and since it would be foolish to charge only one person with adultery…doesn’t such a crime require two people? Apparently not. They pushed me aside and clamped down on her arms prior to her being able to grab her clothing. I couldn’t believe this…her nudity shown to the world, her obvious reputation made public once and for all, her life coming to an end today…I know the law and I know that her raw body and obvious sin would soon be the very flesh that would draw a hailstorm of rocks, large and small. I didn’t want to think of the jagged edges ripping through her soft skin and the blunt force of the larger stones breaking her bones, bludgeoning her face. In my mind she suddenly had worth…not enough to make me stand up for her, I would die too, but enough that made me quickly dress and follow them to where she would be quickly and partially tried, convicted and executed...by the very men who perpetuated her current plight through their willingness to be with her in secret.
I followed the crowd, who were also all too eager to rid the community of this blemish. I realized quickly that it was a setup, a sting operation. Was it aimed at her, me, a general display of religious power? I don’t know but I kept my distance, never knowing if the pack of wolves would turn on me. As the men paraded this woman through the streets she was sobbing…what shame she must have felt, what fear, knowing that her life would soon be over, but not before her dignity was also stripped from her.
Finally the leaders arrived where some man was speaking with others, maybe he was teaching them I don’t know. I think I had heard this man referred to as a religious man…just one more nail in the woman’s coffin, apparently the leaders respected this man’s opinion as they treated him like a stand-in judge. They asked him a very obvious question if he was indeed religious. They explained that she was caught in adultery and they awaited his ruling regarding her guilt…her death pending as only one ruling could be predicted.
I hid behind a wall, only my head peering around the corner, taking it all in, trying to gather my thoughts, trying to better tie my clothes. I wondered when this expert was going to ask who else was involved in this crime, this sin. I wondered how I would explain to my wife that I saw a woman killed and I wondered if she would see right through me, knowing I might as well have thrown the first stone. If implicated would I admit it or would I claim I had been falsely accused? Would I sacrifice the woman to save my own life? I would like to think not, but I know I value my life more than hers…I wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I decided quickly that if it came down to me dying or preserving my life through her death…I would have to live with regret rather than die through more honorable means.
I noticed the delay in him sentencing, as though he was thinking. What’s to think about? The law is the law and who can do anything else. Guilt equals death, the end…no thought, no discussion…death. She is nude, trying to cover up what she can with her hands, bending at the waist to return some sense of modesty to herself…but it wasn’t working. She just stood there, void of glory, she was no longer numb, no longer emotionless. In fact, she now was acutely aware of her plight, her sin, her life and her death. I had never seen emptiness become filled, a void become abundance or numbness become a stinging spectrum of feeling. Being faced with ones death in the shadow of ones failures, ones guilt and ones purposeful disdain for God has a way of returning clarity.
The stand-in rabbi was silent for what seems like an eternity. Just when I thought he was going to pronounce the sentence, he knelt and started writing in the dust. I tried to see between the legs of the hoard crowded around them but I couldn’t make out his writings. The only thing more intriguing than what he was writing was a voice of self-preservation crying out from within. I remained behind the wall, peeking at this event like a child peeking in on an older brother courting a true love. I guess the correct answer wasn’t coming quickly enough for the leaders and they started jeering, really hounding this guy from whom they were seeking an answer to an obvious question. He finally stood, unshaken by the impatience and demands of the crowd. He began to speak and I clinched my teeth and my hands…knowing the punishment would soon commence. “If anyone here is pure, free from sin, without blemish…let that person be the one to initiate the punishment”. What? I mean, huh? Was that the death sentence or not. He didn’t find her innocent but he somehow circumvented the punishment…despite her guilt. Was she not going to pay with her life? Was this going to cost her nothing? Mind you, I don’t want to pay for my participation but her…she doesn’t hold the position I hold, she isn’t self-reliant, self-sustaining. Surely someone will be righteous, do the honorable thing and throw the first stone.
Nothing…not one stone. This man must have known no one would because he still stood near her, close enough to take a rock meant for her should a rock of condemnation be thrown. He squatted again and finished writing what he started earlier. Some of the older men were leaving…where are they going? Has old age made them too weak to fulfill the law or has their experience taught them that no one but God is Righteous? The younger men followed their lead and eventually very few people were there at all. It seems that they were convicted by what this man had said…knowing their own sin, they weren’t willing to use a rock to claim their piety. I saw my sin standing there with her…I took part as well so does this mean I too have been set free, acquitted, pardoned, whatever happened there that day? I don’t think it does mean that. The leader finally stood up and looked into the woman’s eyes…how Holy must he be that his eyes peered into hers, not at her humanness on display for all?…he asked her where everyone was…where is the flurry of stones? What an obvious question…was he seeking an answer or was he seeking dialogue? Was he seeking a relationship with this woman or was he just the kind to ask a question so the one who answers gets the point? She told him…or maybe she was proclaiming it for herself at his direction…that no one was still there who could find her guilty. He then told her that he didn’t condemn her either and that she should go home, get dressed and live a new life…freed, pardoned, not guilty-guilty but without consequence…that was unbelievable. Someone would have to pay for sin right?
I instantly was jealous. I also wanted the salve of his words. I wanted him to search deep within me and pronounce a blessing rather than a curse. I want to walk a new path at his direction. How silly, I am the leader around here and I desire childlike affirmation and direction from this stranger. But still I need him to tell me I am O.K. She was forgiven in full…not me. How could she receive it and not me? Oh, because she couldn’t hide it…her sin was placed before everyone prior to forgiveness. I missed the full blessing because I risked nothing. As a coward, I hid behind a wall, not bearing my sin, not bearing my shame, not receiving a pardon for it all. Risking nothing, I gained nothing. Risking it all, she gained it all.
I ran to this man, desperately needing what he had…I fell before him, with no dignity, no status, no credentials, no pretense and asked…to be full, must I be empty? To be whole, must I be broken? To be first, must I be last? To be pure, must I confess my impurity? He looked at me, silent again and smiled.