Thursday, September 21, 2006

Random Diversion

The following has nothing whatever to do with sewing; it's just a glimspe at one of my other creative outlets. Since I have nothing new to report on the sewing front...just plugging away at the Bible costumes and hoping to have a chance to get some of the backing up personal sewing done before I dive into Scrooge, I thought I'd offer it up as a complete change of pace...a cleansing of the palate...a random diversion.

Walk to the Well

She stepped out into the midday heat as she looped the long rope over her shoulder before hoisting the empty water jug to her shoulder as well. At least it was a legitimate excuse to get out of the house. She didn’t want to be there when Zophah returned…the bruise on her cheek wasn’t quite faded from the last time he wandered in at noon after drinking all night and didn’t find some odd thing to his liking. She thought a moment and realized she couldn’t even remember what had upset him that time. Not that it really mattered – when he was drunk there was no telling what would set him off. But if she wasn’t there, he would stagger off to his sleeping mat and snore away the rest of the day, returning to his normal sullen apathy when he awoke. If she’d timed things right, there’d be no bruises today.

As her feet turned onto the rocky path to Jacob’s Well, she felt despair wash over her. Nothing about her life satisfied the least of the dreams she’d had when she was young. Dreams any young girl would recognize – a husband who cared for her, provided for her in a home that heard children laughing and welcomed friends and family. --Where did I ever get the notion life would be like that, she thought bitterly. The plainest and most awkward fifth daughter in a poor family, she was fortunate that her father even found her a husband, although when she raised her barely fifteen year old eyes to gaze upon her groom at the wedding feast and saw a fat, toothless man only four years younger than her own father, ‘fortunate’ was not the word that came to her mind. She was Gera’s third wife, his hope for offspring after his first two wives had died childless. Not that he treated her badly, so long as she was available to him for the almost nightly attempt to sire a child. She sighed, thinking how she used to welcome her monthly courses, as that was the only time she could count on a night to herself. However, for whatever reason, despite all his efforts, those courses continued to flow and there was no child.

Then Gera had died suddenly after only eighteen months of marriage, simply collapsing in the vineyard he tended. As he had no near kinsmen she’d returned to her father’s house, much to his disgust. He had assumed she’d been too proud to allow the older man to share her bed, and her failure to produce a son for her husband became her shame. Daily her father reminded her that she was a reproach to the family, a burden that they could not get free of. For who would marry a cold widow woman who would not give her husband the child he wanted? And what would become of her if she didn’t marry?

But there was an offer of marriage. After the mourning period had passed, Bered the butcher arrived on her father’s doorstep, proposing marriage. He had two children already, his wife had died birthing a third, stillborn child. Bered needed a young, strong woman to help him keep house and tend the children. Her father was enormously relieved…not only would she have a good husband, but she would have all the fresh meat she desired! What a match!

-- Yes, she thought, passing the last house of the village and through the south gate – that was a good match. Bered was a good man. He told her he’d chosen her for his second wife because she knew what it was like to be bereaved. An intelligent, thoughtful man, Bered was well able to carry on conversation with any who came into the shop for meat. She had listened to the conversations, learning many things herself. It was probably as close to happy as she’d ever been. But it was such a brief time. The fever that swept through the village two years after they married took not only her newborn son, her mother, three of her sisters and their families, but Bered and his daughter as well. Bered’s brother took her stepson into his house but refused to take her. She felt her sister-in-law was mostly responsible for that decision, as she tended to be a jealous woman, but it didn’t matter now. --Nothing matters now, she thought with a sigh as she sat on a large rock, more to postpone the inevitable return to the house in which she dwelt than because she needed to rest. Only a few insects droned about in the merciless sunshine and she smiled to herself, admitting that it was worth venturing out in the blistering heat to avoid meeting anyone who had an opinion about her. No one knew what had really happened in her life…or seemed to care.

After Bered’s death, she had returned once more to her father’s house, grieving, lonely, and weak, having barely survived the illness herself. She expected to spend the rest of her days caring for her family in her mother’s stead. However, her father soon remarried and his new wife, Serah, scarcely older than she was, was determined to be the woman in charge of the day to day running of the home and began at once to demand that her husband find a suitable match for his now twice-widowed daughter. A good match wasn’t the goal…any match was acceptable. After the fever had decimated the town’s population, there were several widowed men who would’ve certainly been at least as kind to her as Bered had been, but the first one to ask was the one to whom she was given, and he would not have been her choice.

Ashvath was a big man, strong and, to her father’s eyes, well able to protect and care for his daughter. But Ashvath was violent and prone to jealousy. He frequently reminded her that she ought to be more grateful that he took her out of her father’s house, as homely and unlovely as she was. She often wondered why he even bothered with her…and wished he hadn’t. His wife had also died in the epidemic, and Ashvath held her up as the standard of perfection that the weary and worn young woman could not begin to equal. At first, his temper tantrums were only verbal, but little by little they began to include physical violence. He began frequenting the brothel in the village, telling her simply that she was too ugly to satisfy him. He did spend the occasional night in her bed, however, and eventually a child was conceived. The worst beating she had was when she informed him she was pregnant…cursing her, he declared that she had defiled his bed with another man while he was away. He’d slapped her against the wall, then pushed her backward over a low bench and stomped off into the night, leaving her unconscious on the floor from the violent crack of her skull against the beaten earth. How long she lay there she had no idea, but when she once more became aware of herself she was bleeding profusely. The infection that followed the miscarriage apparently rendered her infertile, for she never conceived again. She endured seven years of hell with Ashvath before he lost his temper with the wrong person and died in the brothel with a knife in his belly.

Since Ashvath died with no offspring, she found herself bound over in marriage to his brother, Aniam, as was the custom, in order to provide an heir for the family. Unfortunately, Aniam was no less cruel than his brother. He had sent his first wife away with a divorce decree, stating that she had repeatedly burned his meals. His second wife had died giving birth to a son, who had only outlived his mother by two weeks before he died of milk fever. Three more years of misery as Anaim’s wife passed before it became apparent to them both that she was barren. Declaring her an unfit wife, incapable of producing an heir for either him or his brother, he’d given her a divorce decree and pushed her out of his house with only the clothes on her body.

She sighed, realizing she couldn’t spend all day on the trip to the well and stood, hoisting the jar once again and turning down the hill toward the well, which was in a small grove of trees ahead of her. As she slowly descended in the shimmering heat, she remembered the humiliation of standing in the street, holding the small scroll that damned her as useless. In almost unbearable shame, she forced herself to return to her father’s house. There was simply nowhere else for her to go. Her stepmother had stood in the doorway, refusing to let her in. “You’re thirty years old!” Serah had hissed. “Go and make your own way!” Her father had unexpectedly taken her part, stepping into the door and pulling his wife back. “There is no other way for her,” he’d bitterly commented. “Would you have her go to the brothel?” Serah had looked at her with distaste. “Let her go to her sister’s house. She can care for her!” She’d watched as her father looked from her to Serah and back. “You could help Gomer care for her children. Perhaps that would be best.” --Yes, she thought, imagining what life would’ve been like living with Serah in her father’s house, --Perhaps that was the best.

Not that life in her sister’s house had been anything to rejoice over. Gomer had eight children, one of whom had been born with deformed feet and had to be carried about. She’d worked hard for her keep, never forgetting that it was her sister and her brother-in-law’s charity that gave her any semblance of respectability. But it was at least somewhat peaceful…until her brother-in-law began to take notice of her in uncomfortable ways. Dropping hints that she could certainly show him a little more kindness, since he’d shown her such kindness. Furtively touching her when he walked by. She began to be frightened that her sister would accuse her of attempting to seduce him and turn her out, but her attempts to avoid him seemed only to make him more insistent. In desperation, she went once more to her father to ask him to find her a husband, saying only that she wished for a home of her own. Surprised, he told her he had actually had someone ask about her that very week. “Who is it?” She inquired, hopeful. Her father had hesitated a moment before answering, “Jalam.”

Jalam was the town fool, the carcass collector. The butt of all the jokes and the lowest man on the village social ladder. She’d found out later that he had been lamenting to a group of men sitting in the town’s dung gate that he’d not been able to find a wife, and one of them – he wouldn’t say which one – had suggested that she might have him. Although Jalam didn’t tell her they’d all laughed when the suggestion was made, her step-mother made sure she found out. But keeping house for Jalam, as foul as it could be at times, was still better than avoiding her brother-in-law’s attention. Jalam was child-like, and she felt more like his mother than his wife. She smiled slightly as she remembered some of the more foolish things he’d done…things that had made her furious at the time, but now, after he’d disappeared, seemed comical.

The smile quickly faded as she suddenly saw that she was not alone on the path. About a dozen men were emerging from the grove around the well and heading up the path toward the village. She took in their manner of dress as she realized they had not yet seen her. Looking around in a panic, she saw a large rock between two large thorn bushes about ten feet from the path. She quickly ducked around behind it before the men had gone twenty feet, and peeked out at them through the branches of the thorn bush to verify her first impression. Jews! What were Jews doing in that part of Samaria? Jews never walked through Samaria! They considered the Samaritans so corrupt that they would have no dealings with them whatever, lest their lives be somehow tainted with the Samaritan bad seed. She had absolutely no desire to encounter any Jews. She peeked through the spines of the thorn bush again to see that the men had stopped, looking back toward the grove as one hurried back as if he’d forgotten something. She moved away from her vantage spot to make herself less likely to be noticed from the path and nearly held her breath until the man returned to the group and they continued up the path, past her hiding place and on up the hill. She waited a full five minutes after the world fell silent again before she drew a deep breath, picked up the water jug and crept back out to the path.

Thinking of Jalam, she wondered again what had happened to him. Eighteen months ago, after talking mysteriously about some plan he had to become wealthy, he’d walked away from the house at his usual time and never returned. No one knew what had happened to him. She hadn’t worried at first; he’d gone off before for days with expectations of finding treasure, or pursuing some wild plan that he expected to make him wealthy and the envy of everyone in the town, but he’d always returned, rather sheepishly admitting that things hadn’t gone as he’d expected. But as the weeks passed she began to suspect that some horrible thing must’ve happened to him. After a cursory search in the area, the townspeople gave up looking for him…or even caring what had happened to him. The general opinion was that he’d decided to leave the village and the carcasses and pursue his crazy schemes in some far off place.

That meant she was alone, in Jalam’s house. She knew she could glean in the fields and perhaps hire herself out as a laundress in order to survive, but it was more difficult than she thought. Zophah began coming by the house, insinuating that he’d take care of her, if she’d let him move in. She resisted him for about five weeks, then the tax collector came and told her he would turn the house over to Jalam’s relatives in the next village if she couldn’t pay the taxes. She found herself in a desperate position again. Without proof of Jalam’s death, she couldn’t marry again…and she couldn’t return to either her father’s or her sister’s house...and she was hungry. The next time Zophah asked her if he could move in and take care of her, she swallowed hard and said yes.

She honestly didn’t think her place in society could drop much lower than it was as Jalam’s wife, but she quickly found out that there was a much lower place to be. Living with Zophah made her the village slut. The women nearly stoned her the first evening she came to the well for water after he moved in, so she began coming at odd times…like noon, when no one else ventured out. Once again despair washed over her. If only there was some way she could go back and start over…be happy….

Suddenly she stopped as she rounded the first tree in the grove which shaded Jacob’s Well and saw the well itself. To her horror, there was a man sitting on the ground next to it with his back to her. From the look of him, he was Jewish, like the others who had just passed her. She felt tears rising as she realized this could mean the others were returning…but it could be as much as an hour before they did so. Would the man sit by the well that long? There was nothing to do but get her water and hope he left her alone. She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, focused on the side of the well opposite him and walked as quietly as she could toward that spot.

When she was no more than two feet from the well, he suddenly turned around and fixed amazingly kind eyes on hers.

“Will you give me a drink?”


-- Lisa Willis, Jan 2005

9 comments:

  1. Loved your story. I really admire people that can put words together so beautifully.
    I'm anxious to know if there'll be more of the story to come.

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  2. Well, the rest of the story is all ready written...it's in chapter 4 of the Gospel According to John. ;)

    We had the 'Woman at the Well' scene in our Easter production at church last year, and that kind of inspired me to finally write down what I thought about her. Many people think she was a woman of exceedingly loose morals...I think she probably didn't have much control over what happened to her. Hence the story of what lead her to the well that day. Anyway, glad you liked it! ;)

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  3. I love it, Lisa. May I share the link to your story with my women's group? I think they'd love it, too!

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  4. This is one of my favorite Bible stories! I agree with your view...I've though of her as a lonely women, without much control over her life, longing for love.

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  5. This is great! I read a book when I was a teen--I think it was called A Daughter of Samaria, I'll have to look it up--that showed a similar view. That account touched me so deeply then, I can still remember passages from the book.

    I haven't visited your blog for a while, but I do enjoy it.

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  6. Beautifully told Lisa. I enjoyed it very much! Really I believe this to be the first "missionary outreach" although I may be mistaken and it was made by our Lord to a woman and a woman despised at that. He set the bar and set it high.

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  7. Yes, this was very early in Jesus' ministry; what an example he sets here!

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  8. Thanks for posting this, Lisa. Made my day.

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