The workshop table turned over with a crash. Seething, his robes torn, his rage continued to surge. The cabinet he had been hired to build, almost finished, had flown into the opposing wall.
His beloved, his bride as arranged in the traditions of his people, was taken by a rogue band of soldiers. His thoughts were not wasted on their motives or their bigotry; they were operatives for the Devil as far as he was concerned. This heathen army came to his country as an unstoppable force seeking to expand a gluttonous empire with the arrogance of same. They deserved the wrath of a thousand Gods; he propelled himself toward the door, a single-minded intent.
A crowd had gathered as word of the tragedy spread. Neighbors met the Groom as he staggered forth with clinched jaw.
Immediately, prematurely, some fool neighbor tried to comfort him: “it is a blessing from God that she was killed, what kind of life would she return to and then who would you marry?” He was about to continue on about other eligible young girls when our grieving, enraged Groom spins around with a vase no one had seen him pick up; he shatters the pottery over his neighbor’s head. As the pot explodes and the fool collapses, the fog lifts from our Groom and he sees his grave error. If he is to die for another man’s death, he wishes it had been that of a soldier.
As his neighbor’s body lay in the dirt, as a collective gasp held the crowd in shock, fear seizes his heart. He runs from his crime.
He couldn’t stop running. He stayed on his blistered feet until the sun rose in front of him and he watched it move into the sky, warming the land with its ascent. He kept moving as the sun drained him of his strength, his throat and lips screaming for water. But he would not stop as fear carried him beyond his thirst.
Finally, a goat shed holds his attention, or not the shed, but a drunken man asleep beside it. The drunk still had a jug at his side. In the absence of water, the wine called out to our Groom. If there was only enough to wet his lips, he would keep looking for water; if there was enough to drown his misery, he hoped the drunk would kill him over the theft.
Our Groom staggers to the drunkard, gently removes the bottle from the crook of the man’s arm, finds it less than half full, and sits in the shaded area made by the adjacent wall. He finishes the jug, disregarding the cautionary rules that say not to drain a bottle when sharing with a stranger. Dehydrated, and with an empty stomach, what wine there was made quick work of him.
The sun continued its journey across the sky, and the shade meant to soothe our Groom in his woeful sleep crept away with the hours. The sun gazed down upon our Groom, now a fugitive, dying as slow a death as to make the sun pity the life he was about to end. Perhaps the young man will wake and remove himself from the heat. But the sun can do no more to save our sleeping Groom from his fate than to watch and pray for him to wake.
And wake he does, to the agony from the heat, and the burn, and the thirst such that his very soul felt as though it were on fire. He looks to see that the both the jug and the drunk are gone. He curses the man for not ending his misery. He curses again as he has no strength to find shade or water. As he lies there, he prays for death. He screams aloud for God to do away with him, he is of no use to anyone now. He is of no use to God.
As if in response, a cool breeze hits his face. It is gentle enough to make him question whether he felt it at all. He takes notice. “I am listening,” he says within himself.
“..and I have gone mad,” he says aloud.
With no more sounds from the wind or the earth, his thoughts turn to his actions of the previous day.
The anger he wished to direct to those impudent soldiers, he turned on his kinsman. Such a foolish mistake, he would surely be killed for it—not that it matters much at this point. But there were witnesses, they heard what was said. They saw he was not in his right mind. Such a foolish mistake. Why would he say such a thing? As if one person can simply be exchanged for another.
Because the fool believed he was right. Everyone in the village would agree with him: men and women, old and young. Men have their place and women have theirs and this is how the world operates, how it should operate. It is the natural order of things. But he is a fool nonetheless. Everyone in the village would agree with that, too. And those two truths, held together, don’t make one bit of sense.
One truth had to be more correct than the other.
Believing he is now mad from thirst and exhaustion, our Groom allows his mind to play freely. What difference does it make, as he will die soon enough anyway.
A man’s place is dependent on the presence of a woman to honor him and a woman’s place is dependent upon the presence of a man to be honored.
And a fool is still a fool whether or not anyone exists to call him one.
There is a Truth, it seems to our Groom (who has obviously gone mad with thirst), which exists independant of human presence or understanding. The Truth would never be foolish to say, no matter the state of mind of the listener, never mind the reaction of the listener. It would not be the speaker's fault that the listener does not wish to hear the Truth.
Therefore the fool did not speak in accordance with the Truth. The people of his village, the natural order of things itself, all people on God's Earth as far as he understood it, are completely wrong! They are wrong about his bride, treating her as just a thing to be replaced and not as a soul to be loved.
A cloud covered the direct sun, granting a moment’s reprieve.
Our Groom would have loved his bride even upon her traumatized state of survival, in the moment when she would have most needed someone to love her and care for her. When the Natural Order of things would tell the fools of his village she was worthless as a bride and better off dead. They might kill her as an act of mercy. So many others do. His own mother was set to die as she, unwed, was discovered to be with child through no fault of her own. However, the man he calls Father saw his mother as the vulnerable soul that she was and when she most needed him to love her, he did. Natural Order be damned.
Given our Groom’s history, it would make a good deal of sense that, when he first met his bride, having seen into her eyes peeking out from behind the headscarf she used to modestly hide her beauty, he looked upon her not as someone to be owned, but to be loved.
Truth be told, he barely knew the girl who was to be his bride. He had only seen her twice in his life yet for her he grieved deeply. No other girl would have her eyes. The eyes which told him there was a universe of thought hidden behind them. Within that space where the soul lives, which cannot be penetrated without that same soul’s consent. He yearned to know what universes resided within the soul of his bride. He saw her eyes give their consent and he couldn’t believe his good fortune.
As the thought of never looking into those eyes again, the ache of love lost, swelled his heart, our Groom did not notice the skies turn grey with an impending storm.
And now here he lay dying, a fugitive. If only the people knew what he knew, surely anyone in his village who knew the love for another would pity him and not wish him harm for his crime. If they could forgive him, there would be so much he could teach them about the Truth he now knows. Would the wife of the fool forgive him too? No. How dare he ask that of her?
Within a breath, seemingly separate from his own thinkng, a peculiar clarity occurred to him: If he can find it within him to forgive the soldiers, he will have peace enough to ask forgiveness for his own crime. Even if forgiveness is not offered to him, and he is not given a chance to tell others the Truth he now knows, that would still be an execution he could face with honor.
As the fear of his fate leaves him, a soft hum sounded in the distance and he did not notice. As the hum increases to a roar, the wall of rain crashes upon him and he is soaked instantly. The roof of the goat shed directs the falling rain to cascade onto his parched torso. He is forced to sit up. He tilts his head, drinks his fill, and is revived.
** ** **
A week had passed and the fool’s wife removed the bandages from his scalp. The swelling and her scornful commentary finally receded, they sat in their yard overlooking the goat fields and gardens of the community as the sun rose above the trees. A figure was seen in the distance. The man watched as his assailant came into view. He almost didn’t recognize the eldest son of his neighbor. He walked with a peaceful intensity and purpose he had never seen before in the impulsive, combative young man. His wife’s hands froze in their work, coming to rest on his shoulders as they watched a young rabbi march his path toward Nazareth.