Thrown to the ground by angry men is nothing new to me. But yanked out of my own bed, dragged through the center of town, and hurled in front of one spoken so highly of, is.
Shame left a scent trail throughout the course of my life. Humiliation, misery, and distress the hounds that chased me from childhood on. They finally have me cornered. Dust and disgust surround me.
“Caught in the very act....The Law demands...Here are enough stones...”
Each announcement, raised by agitated anxious men, undresses me rip by rip. The sparse cloak barely covering my humanity evaporates until nothing is left between my nakedness and the harsh sun.
Hot tears seep from my dull eyes. Fatalistic finality overtakes me overshadowing even the disgrace and indignity that is my meager life. Closing my eyes and clutching the dirt I wait for the first blow.
The man everyone is talking about is close to me. I hear his even breathing, I sense his presence. He bends down and runs his fingers through the dust like a child at play. Suddenly the sea of angry accusations ceases. All grow still and silent. Even the usual morning breeze is markedly absent. I keep my eyes firmly shut as I sense him stand.
“If anyone here has not sinned, please, go ahead and toss the first stone.”
His voice is calm, steady, fatherly.
No one moves. No one speaks. I hear a rustle of cloth as the Teacher once more bends down and continues scribbling in the dust. The only other sound is feet sheepishly shuffling away.
Dare I open my eyes? Of all the men in the city the Teacher is the last one I wish to be naked in front of. Despite all the things I’ve done, despite the hardness and brazen acts, I feel my face flush crimson. I squeeze my eyes harder as I roll up into a ball trying desperately to hide my shame. I will him away franticly with my mind.
A breeze sweeps over my body as a mantle gently covers me. The soft fibers brush against my hideous skin. My first instinct is to throw it off. I, of all people, dare not wear such pure refined linen. But the weariness of my heart and soul seep into my physical being. I cannot move. I can’t even open my eyes. Sobs escape my lips as I raise my hands to cover my hot face.
His voice is like a gentle life giving brook. He can’t be directing such a greeting to me. I’m used to being called dog and whore.
“Where are they? Is there any man convicting you?”
I stop breathing. I strain my ears to listen; to be my eyes. No other being is present. I’m alone with the Teacher. I chance a deep breath. I gamble on opening my eyes. My filthy hands are still covering them yet sunshine bleeds through my flesh. Slowly, tentatively, I separate my fingers. Glancing at my surroundings it’s like looking through the bars of a prison door.
I see dust, silent buildings, and the Teacher. I let my hands drop slowly as if the weight of the world pulls them down. Instinctively I clutch the mantle wrapping it around me.
The Teacher reaches out a hand helping me to unsteady feet. I look around again searching for any hidden ambush. Nothing stirs. It’s as if the world has stood still waiting for my reply.
“No man, sir.” I scanned his face for mockery. Surely there is punishment coming. If not from the crowd then from him. But I see only undeserved compassion in his deep brown eyes.
“Neither do I.” Each word is spoken unhurriedly and clearly, like a father to his young child. “Go now and live your life free from sin.”
Try as I might I find no sarcasm, no cruel joke, no double cross. Only kindness.
I turn from his eye and wrap the white linen sheet closer. As I take the first step toward home I take the first step free from shame.
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