(Note: You would do well to read “Bethesda, Part I”, if you haven’t already, as this is a continuation thereof.)
And, it is true: he lived his life in the perpetual shadow of that stupidest of questions. His days remaining were but paltry blessings and meager oblations watering the knotted, exposed roots of that tree planted by the still waters (unseen, unheard and unknown but known and believed). It is written somewhere that the roots of this tree plunge deeply into that river of sweat, bloodied tears and stifled screams, yet that river still shimmers like glass. The roots drink it all up, and, by the miracle of life, turns the bitterest sacrifices into the sweetest fruits. This fruit has powers, it has long been said, to restore. But he, like us, knew nothing of such things, expect what was half-heard in the stillness under the returning cacophony of desire without end. Yet, this stupidest of questions prodded him from the pools and from the vision of seraphic ecstasy to the cold wasteland of desert wanderings, his legs carrying him the entire way.
The first place his legs carried him after the healing was towards the door of the Pools. Even though it arrived so full of pugilism, that impressive thunderstorm quickly dissipated, seemingly taking the Angel and the man with it. As he walked towards the doors, the other sick and lame suddenly realized what had transpired and they gaped with jealousy at him. The authorities also saw him, intercepting him with belittling questions, “Why, just why did the Angel heal you on the Sabbath? Or does the Host of Heaven not observe it?” He could only give one dumb answer after another. “No”, he kept repeating, “I don’t know who healed me, but . . . I . . . I heard him and saw the angel.” After about three minutes of interrogation, he realized that his legs had been healed and he didn’t have to stand there being yelled at anymore, so he turned and walked out the door.
And those two legs carried him out the door towards his old house. Not knowing what he was to find, his heart slammed against his chest while the hope electric coursed through his shoulders and up through his scalp. He breathlessly sang parts of the Benedicite that surfaced between nerves. What he found when he arrived there, of course, was nothing but the same house but without any familiar occupants. So, he inquired with an elderly neighbor. She said, sliding the sweat off her forehead with her hand, “Honey, they moved away, years ago! I think it was to Carthage or Caesarea, maybe. I don’t remember.” Apparently his cousin (his wife’s husband) had found work elsewhere.
Hope betrayed him – it always did. Here he was with his functional legs, but nowhere to carry himself (more accurately: no one to carry himself to). For, no one was there to hear his soliloquy perfected by years of that silently tempestuous, subcutaneous boiling which man-handled hope into that oft-fantasized scene where his wife would realize the error of her ways and she would flee the ill-gained comforts of his cousin, only to collapse into the arms of he whom she vowed to forsake all others. And so on, that which follows. No one was there to hear his carefully persuasive nouns and adjectives. No one to hear his lofty words colored with twinge of earthy regret. No one, that is, except for an old lady who didn’t appear to care much for prepared speeches, as she wiped her hands on her apron and went back to her work.
But, this! Was this some kind of divine joke, some semblance of some fable told and retold around fires long into the night and written down by his ancestors to instruct the generations to come? He had no clue. All he knew was that he had legs – yes, thanks be to G-d! – but they were purposeless legs. His legs were without journey. What did it matter? What did any of this matter? His life would never be what it was, nor would it ever be what hope had duped him into believing.
So, his two legs carried him rather listlessly through town, until he came upon the Temple. And it is there that he stopped. He sat down under the peristyle and wept.
Oh, how they came and went, the people and priests of the Temple, busy with sacrifice! A dove here, a lamb here and money changing hands while the daily round of chants were intoned and the continual bleating cry rung in their ears. Jubilant conversations of the people regarding now-cleansed sins as the priests made their way through the masses with blood dripping from their fingers and sweat-soaked garments. No one paid too much attention to the man sitting cross-legged in the corner with his head in his hands. He looked like a beggar — a beggar that did nothing but sit, watch and cry. The sun rose. The sun set. The sun rose. The sun set. The words to that speech came out jumbled and misshapen with every tear and every sob deconstructed every sentence of his life as he watched the progression of shadows shorten and lengthen. And, occasionally he would choke out: “O ye Nights and Days, bless ye the Lord. O ye Light and Darkness, bless ye the Lord; yea, let it praise him, and magnify him for ever.” He had no clue how many days he sat there. Was it a day? A month? Three lifetimes? He hadn’t a clue: his mind was nowhere near his body and he didn’t particularly care.
Then, a familiar voice broke into this hypnotic melancholic possession. “Stop it. Stop it right now.” It was the voice of the Man who had healed him at the pools. He got up off the floor. Forty-six questions lined up in his head, including: where is his wife, who was this Man, why did he heal him, how did he heal him and – for some reason – whatever happened to the dinosaurs, by the way? Yet, these, too, slipped from his mind and he was left with only silence. He knelt before the Man as the priests went by and the people talked, mostly ignorant of what was transpiring.
And the Man said, “You’d better stop it, unless you want something worse to happen to you.” He replied, “What?” “Your legs”, the man said with a gesture, “and the sickness. You’ve been healed. I’d hate to see you go back to how you were.” (He couldn’t tell if the man meant when he was in the pools or before) He blurted out, rather loudly, “Where do I go? What do I do?” There was silence between them. The man said, “Your legs have a purpose, yes. Yes, they do. Go back to the Pools and tell them it was me that healed you. And, maybe our Father will give you back your wife.” As he rose from before the man, he turned to go out of the Temple. Fulfilling this mission, not necessarily out of duty, but out of nothing to do.
As he was walking away, the Man shouted, “After that, I want you to come and follow me.” And he did just that: told the authorities who healed him and joined the band of the Man’s followers. Yet, he still wondered, albeit infrequently, if he would ever see his (ex-)wife.
He would, of course.
(Stay tuned for the conclusion: Bethesda, Part III!)