neighbors

When I awoke I could barely move for the pain; I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t know how I had gotten there. I could hear, from some nearby room, laughter and conversation. Eventually a woman came to my door and asked how I was doing.

“Who are you?” I managed to ask, though it hurt me to speak. I could feel with my tongue that I had lost teeth, and I could see through one eye only. Every breath made my ribs ache.

“My husband and I keep this inn,” she said, and then she told me about the man who had found me and brought me to safety. When I arrived, she said, the stranger had already washed me as best he could and bandaged the worst of my wounds. He gave them money to take care of me. “And we will do right by you,” she said. “He promised that when he comes this way again he’ll pay us for any added expense. So you just rest up, and I’ll bring you some soup. You won’t be going anywhere for a few days.” And then as she was leaving she looked back and said, “He was a Samaritan, you know.”

Now that’s odd, I thought as I lay back and tried to breathe without hurting myself. I didn’t, and don’t, remember the man at all — I didn’t, and don’t, remember anything after the moment the first blow from the robbers knocked me to the ground. They’re wicked men, of course, but I should’ve known better than to take that road at that time of night. I was trying to save time; I was in a hurry to get some business done. I was a fool.

But to think that a stranger passing by, and a Samaritan at that, stopped to care for me! — what an encouragement. It makes me think that all these years I’ve been too cynical about people. Sure, there are some bad ones in the world — don’t I know it! — but in the end, surely, human nature is essentially good. I must remember that.

this sickness is not unto death

People ask me about it all the time, but I have nothing to tell them. I was very ill; I closed my eyes and drifted away; I woke to the call of a friend’s voice, and when I realized I was bound in cloth all over — that was terrible — I flailed and rose and stumbled towards the voice. That’s all.

I hear that he told people that I was asleep, just asleep. Mary and Martha say that I was not, that he was using a figure of speech, as we do when we say that King David slept with his fathers. Maybe. But he said what he said.

Nothing much happened to me after that. When he returned to our house he was occupied by some kind of dispute involving Mary and Judas, which I had no part in. And soon thereafter he did what he came to do. Much later I was told that the chief priests who sought to kill him wanted to kill me as well, though I don’t know why, and in any case I was unaware of it at the time.

I was unaware of a lot in those days. My sisters tell me that I was preoccupied, distant. I suppose I was. Though as far as I knew I had simply slept for a few days, I had to learn again how to live in the light. Plus, I knew what was coming for our friend. It was hard to know how to speak to him then.

He was our friend. We know he loved us, as we loved him. But as his hour drew near, he seemed preoccupied with those who followed him everywhere he went. (We just stayed in Bethany.) I guess he had much to teach them and little time to do it. But when he came back — and I know he came back — he had time for them only. No time for us.

I guess what I’m saying is, no time for me. I kept thinking, We have something in common now. But maybe we don’t. Maybe his three days were wholly unlike my four. Maybe they didn’t involve sleep, weren’t like sleep. But whatever that experience was for him, I know this: he won’t have to do it again.

Sometimes I pass the tomb where I spent those four days I don’t remember. I’m generally not superstitious, but I don’t look too closely; and I certainly don’t go in. But one day I will. And what that will be like for me I don’t know any more than you do.

Chapter 43

The old man sat on his porch and looked out across the green fields. Another good harvest coming this fall. And the sun shone on the glossy coats of the fat cattle.

One of his grandchildren came out and handed him a mug of mint tea. He grasped it with both hands and its warmth soothed his fingers’ joints. He looked at his granddaughter and saw her round smooth arms, the bright whites of her long-lashed eyes, her smiling lips. He drew her near and kissed the top of her head, smelling her clean fresh hair. He rejoiced in her rude health. He gave thanks for it.

A year ago a stranger had visited, drawn by his fame, and had asked, nervously, whether it was true what people said, that his sons and daughters had never died but rather had been protected by Hashem, set aside until the temptation was over, then restored to full life and health.

“No,” he had told the stranger. “No, it wasn’t like that.”