Watch your step there, young woman. This is a treacherous spot
by Frank Avon
in the roadway. I've traveled this passage many times before;
many times have I seen someone slip, someone make a misstep.
And slide among the stones, down into the flowing sewer there.
Ah, I see. This is your first time in these parts. I could tell
by your tongue that you might be from elsewhere. I know the feeling.
They used to call me 'the Magdalene, ' meaning I was too sophisticated,
a city girl from the Town of the Tower. Once it had been
a little fishing village, then a prosperous city that fell on hard times
when those Romans erected the city of Tiberias. People who stayed in Magdala,
then, they thought, were too snooty, 'has beens' from the old times -
at least that's what Simon Peter was always saying to me,
for he prided himself on being a lowly man, a hard-working fisherman,
with those broad shoulders and brown legs and sinewy hands and arms,
a true fisherman. Why his Teacher, who had chosen him, should also
choose such a frilly city girl was more than he could understand.
'She even talks funny, ' he complained, 'all edoo-cated, 'n all.'
But that was just Simon Peter, just the way he was. So don't let them
get you down, or make fun of your tongue. We are who we are - all
Where am I headed? you ask. Now that's interesting, isn't it?
That's usually a question the men ask - not a young woman like you.
Some of them offer to help me along the way, even to let me sleep
in their tent - with them, of course. Well, I give them what-for!
But others, more gentlemanly, are curious about me, about my clothes,
the ones I wear to travel in along this roadway, and others like it.
Women usually ask where I've been, where I came from. They really
want to know, of course, whether I'm married - one of them -
belonging to some man or another, with a troop of children somewhere.
My answers, I have to tell you, always puzzle them - men and women -
all of them. Where am I headed to? 'I'll know when I get there -'
that's what I say. They wrinkle their brow at that. My bones
will know, my soul will know, the Voice I hear in my inner ear -
the Voice will say, 'Here.' They don't understand; some pretend to,
but none of them do. Most of the women are wiser. Where did you
come from? 'Over yonder, ' I say, pointing one way or another;
'a long time ago.' 'I can hardly remember, ' I say. 'By myself, '
I say; 'a while with Him, and since then by myself again - always'
Well, that's not really true - not in the strictest sense. I never
travel alone; I choose one group or another, never rowdies,
mostly women and their families, sometimes others who knew Him too.
Who is He? you say. Oh, I thought you knew, that you were one of us.
I was the Magdalene; He was the Nazarene. Outsiders, both of us,
sorta - strangers, or strange anyway - out of place - alienated -
talking a language they didn't know. I don't mean our tongues now;
I mean the language of the soul. We both, you see, had been dipped
in the waters of the Jordan - by Yohan the Essene, who was also called
Yohan the Immerser. 'We are a corrupt people, ' Yohan said, 'soiled
by the times we live in, the folks we live near, the impurities
we let happen, even when we aren't thinking.' 'Wash yourselves, '
he said; 'wash away your selves; come forth clean, come forth pure.'
No, no, no. I don't mean from harlotry. Heavens, no. Though I
must admit, some of the men liked to think of me that way - fallen.
You see, I grew up an orphan, passed from uncle to cousin to kin
even more distant. One of them, a wise old man, taught me to read,
told me to read and read and read. 'You don't need to be dependent:
find things out for yourself.' It wasn't easy in those days: scrolls
were hard to come by, unless you were affluent, unless you were
among the elite. 'Make yourself one of the true elite, ' he said.
'Read, read, read.' That's how I got too sophisticated for Simon Peter.
He was barely literate - really wasn't. Someone had to help him
decipher the scriptures, communicate thereafter with all the other
apostles. Often I helped him. He gave me grudging gratitude.
Then, when I was over thirty, I was married - a spinster in their eyes -
to the honorable Clopas - one of the elite, but not a thinker,
not given to meditation. One of us was sterile; we never knew which.
And then I was a widow - way, way too soon. That's when I heard
about this strange Immerser. I took to following him around,
just to hear his hardy voice, his words of insistance, his promises.
Stranger than I, he was. Living in the desert, eating only weeds,
seeds, wearing the skins of beasts he knifed from their carcasses,
barefoot, bare-legged, bare-headed, untrimmed, unshaven. What a man,
was he. But he spoke of the spiritual, he spoke to my soul,
and I let myself wear rough clothes, patched with rags, drab, plain.
Oh, no, now I've got you confused. Yohan was not He, not the one
I mean. Yohan was like a brother - but distant, weird, wild,
wholly independent. We who followed him - well, we understood.
It's like we were his descendants, but he was atop the mountain,
and we were following at a distance, in the arid valleys.
So, how did I meet Him, my Teacher? That's what you want to know, isn't it?
Strange as it may seem, I really don't remember. We were both
around and about - simple folks, on our own. I think we may
have seen each other from time to time at communal dinners -
you know what I mean, weddings, holidays, anniversaries of births,
marriages, funerals, events of some importance. A motley group -
fishermen and gatherers, Zealots (those mouthy orators, rebels) ,
tax collectors (now they were true outsiders, alienated by the trade) ,
seamstresses, builders, diggers, nursemaids, beggars (those, too) .
I had seen Him here and there; I guess he had seen me, too.
Then he was immersed - as I had been - in the waters of the Jordan.
Yohan the Essene seemed flustered - very unlike him. He mumbled.
I barely heard him, but I have never forgotten the words I heard:
'You ought to be - washing me? I'm the one unclean. Why are you here? '
Then as He rose from the water, dripping, wiping his eyes, humble,
it was as if it thundered, but the skies were clear and sunny.
It couldn't have been Yohan the Immerser: he was much too quiet,
his voice would never have rumbled. No, it was a clap of thunder.
I'm sure it was. I never asked Him afterward; I should've.
'THIS IS MY SON WHOM I LOVE! WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED! '
END OF PART 1 - MORE TO COME