They dragged her through the streets as a crowd gathered to watch the sad parade. Fingers dug into her arms, and elbows pressed against her ribs. One man tore her thin tunic and bared her shoulder. Her wild black hair curled around her face like the veil that was not there. The many feet about her flung up dust, and some threw handfuls at her. She tasted dirt inside her mouth, and blood from where a hand had struck her painted lips.
“Whore,” they called her. “Adulteress!”
They spat on her and struck her chest. She tripped and skinned her knee. The road ripped the palms of her hands. Her skirt tore. A sandal came off her foot, and rocks cut into her bare toes.
“Kill her! She deserves to die!” the watching people yelled.
The men who had captured her were religious leaders. Their robes were long and white, adorned with gold thread, tassels, and black Hebrew letters. Those letters stood for the Law she had broken, and they, too, condemned her.
“Adulteress!” the leaders screamed. Their faces contorted with rage beneath braided headdresses. Their mouths moved mercilessly from within full beards, and their black eyes glowed with her death. She could not look upward.
Staring at the road, she wished she could melt into its dust. The men lifted her again and dragged her for a long way. Her other sandal came off, and she felt like she could not move another step, but they carried her. Finally, they cast her headlong at the feet of a man who sat by the temple wall.
She lay there, her face covered by her hands. Sobs choked her throat, and hot tears trailed along her dusty red cheeks and ran between her fingers.
“She was caught in the very act of adultery,” the leader announced the charge against her. “The Law calls for her to be stoned. What do you say?”
The man at whose feet she lay did not reply. She could not move, afraid to breathe, waiting for him to pick up a stone, waiting for the first cut across her bare back.
But, instead, the whole world changed. Grace was brought to woman and to man. The teacher at whose feet she had been thrown for judgment did not even stand. The woman watched between her dirty fingers as he picked up a simple stick and began to write something in the dirt. She watched the flick of sand upon his sandaled brown feet as he patterned what she could not read.
“What do you say?” repeated the accuser, one of the temple leaders with crimson thread woven in his robe.
“Stone her! Stone her!” the crowd demanded. And then she heard the sound she had been dreading: the scrape of stones. People all around her began picking them up from the cold road. They held them, smooth pebbles between fingers or rocks the size of bread loafs in both hands. The woman covered the back of her head, bracing for the onslaught.
The man looked up from his task and set down the stick. He rose to his feet and stared at the accusers. He was ordinary-looking, with a simple homespun robe of faded blue and brown, unadorned with braids or tassels. He raised one arm, opened his empty palm, and said,
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
His words were rainbows, music, life. The woman smiled at the sound of them and breathed again.
The crowd grew silent. The people held their breath, waiting for the reaction of the Pharisees.
One by one, starting with the oldest leader, the accusers dropped their stones and walked away. Hardly daring to believe in her deliverance, the woman kept still upon the ground as she heard the fall of rocks to dirt around her.
“This is Jesus,” she heard someone in the crowd whisper as even the bystanders began leaving. “I heard him teach. His words were ‘judge not, lest you be judged.’”
“Yes, I heard him talk of mercy and forgiving one’s enemies,” another replied.
The woman heard footsteps. She removed her hands from her head and looked up.
Jesus knelt before her and stretched out his hand. She grasped it, trembling, and he raised her to her feet. She stood in front of him, dirty, disheveled, half dressed, but whole.
“Woman, where are your accusers?” he asked. “Has no one condemned you?”
She stared at his face: a simple face, sunburned and wind-warn, with high cheekbones and a scraggly beard. It was not a face she would call handsome or remember. Except for his eyes. They held a kind of depth–like the cloudless sky, like deep water, like the light of dawn.
She found her voice and whispered,
“No one, Lord.”
He smiled, and the light in his eyes blazed like resurrection.
“Than neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
He clasped her hands for a moment, and she felt strength flow into her. Laughter filled her throat, and her soul leapt inside her like a deer set free to mountains.
She turned and walked freely down the nearly empty street, her head held like a princess.
“I am forgiven, forgiven!” she sang with each step. “My life is given back to me!” She smiled, she danced, she held up her hands. Joy filled her like water poured into a silver bowl.
She knew she would obey his words, for she loved him as she had loved no other man.
And later, on the eve of Passover, when she saw him in the street, he was bruised and beaten, stripes upon his back like claws. His hair was mixed with blood beneath a crown of thorns, and he struggled to bear a wooden cross upon his shoulders.
“Oh, why?” she cried to the angry crowd. “Why would you do this to him? He forgave me! He came to bring us life!”
Her words were lost in shouts of “Crucify him!”
She followed close behind, saw him stumble on a stone. A big man lifted up the cross, but still the teacher could hardly walk. He turned toward her; she saw his face. His eye was blackened, his beard plucked out. A Roman soldier spat upon him, the spittle sliding down across a reddened cheek like some strange kiss.
She grabbed a towel from a basket and ran to him, past strong arms of soldiers bearing swords. She knelt before him, wiped the spit and blood and sweat away, his face caught in the folds of the towel.
“Get back!” a soldier yelled at her. Another grabbed her, flung her hard against the wall. The sad parade moved past. But still, she followed, holding the cloth that bore his blood. She watched them crucify him, pierce his hands and feet, stab his heart through with a spear. They gambled for his cloak and called him names. And when he gave up his spirit, the sky turned black, the earth shook, and lightning flashed across the sky.
She looked at the towel that bore the imprint of his face and realized he was the Passsover lamb, the perfect sacrifice. He had forgiven her once, and now he forgave all.
“Thank you,” she whispered as the rain began to fall.
My older daughter Kristen called me on my cell phone while I was shopping for food at Costco. It was the night before Easter, 2009, busier than usual as people prepared for family events. I stopped the cart to try and hear her voice above the general noise.
“Edd is in I.C.U. at the hospital,” she told me. “He’s on a ventilator because he can’t breathe on his own. His heart failed twice. I’m watching Jonathan and Jessica.”
I stood in the computer aisle and started crying.
“How are the kids doing?” I asked. I had heard nothing of their lives. Though the court had ordered my visitation with my children, Edd refused to cooperate, and I knew my only course was to save money for a lawyer and take him back to court.
“They are O.K.,” Kristen replied. “But Edd may not make it. His new wife Kim has been spending all day at the hospital.”
“Where is he?” I asked. Kristen mentioned the name of a hospital not far from Costco. I met Miguel at the check-out counter, paid for the food, and drove to the Passover dinner we had already paid for. I asked my Messianic pastor for prayer, cried some more, and left as soon as the dinner was over.
Miguel drove through the clear spring night. Stars were shining . . .
We walked through the hospital corridors unchallenged and went to the third-floor Intensive Care Unit, not certain what we would find.
“I will wait here,” Miguel said (he did not want to walk with me).
I paused before the double door: glass on top, a metal strip in the middle, and wood beneath.
“Open,” I whispered, touching my fingers to it. Unlocked, it swept inward.
My feet tapped across the white linoleum floor, past glassed rooms on my left, each with an open door to reveal the bed within. The I.C.U. numbers on doors began at 3100. I stopped in the doorway of 3108.
The first thing I noticed was Edd’s large stomach, covered only by a hospital gown. His body seemed bigger, covering the whole bed.
Then I saw the green tube in his mouth and his face tilted sideways, eyes closed. His breathing was irregular, forced by a ventilator. Behind an I.V. pole, a screen showed his heartbeat and respiration in several jagged lines that glowed green against a black background.
His face looked older, bloated. His beard was gray at the edges. His bare arms, by his side, were swollen. They were punctured by I.V.s and banded with tape and plastic bracelets. His legs were covered with black velcroed bandages that forced the blood back toward his heart.
The scar on his knee, from a surgery long ago, glowed white in huge crisscrosses against his freckled, hairy skin. His bare feet, his legs, all were thicker than they should be, as if his kidneys were failing and his body retaining toxic water.
Is this the man who strangled me? I wondered, hardly able to look at him for the pain the sight absorbed.
Did Jessica and Jonathan see him like this? They need their mother now, and I cannot go to them!
I stepped toward Edd, silently. Because of the breathing tube, he was sedated. I did not want to waken him. Can he be wakened? Does he sense that I am here? If he were to wake, he would probably lash out at me for daring to visit him in the hospital, uninvited.
The room smelled like alcohol. Everything must be so sterile.
I touched his right arm, just below a bandage spotted with blood, and whispered a prayer,
“Lord, please heal him. In Jesus’ name, have mercy. Let the Angel of Death pass over because of the Lamb’s blood.”
Edd turned toward me and deeply sighed. My trembling fingers lifted away from his pallid skin, and I stepped back, staring silently, hardly believing I stood in that cold place. My arms shivered despite my velvet dress and jacket, which I wore to celebrate Passover dinner.
Oh, his bare feet must be so cold. Can he feel it? Why don’t they give him a blanket?
Does he dream?
No one came to challenge my presence there. The nurse’s station was right behind me.
I did not want to see you like this, I said silently to the man who fathered my two youngest children. The one person in all the world who hurt me to the point of death, sorrow beyond what I thought I could bear–as he kept my children from me for two long years—lay here before me. The man who tried to love me yet hurt me often, who yelled and screamed with such anger in the night, who forced me down thirty-eight steps and all the way to New Zealand . . .
He lay silent. He did not move except to breathe a very deep breath and tilt his head toward me, as if he knew I was there, as if he wanted peace.
I turned toward the nurse’s station, knowing she would tell me nothing.
“May I write him a note?” I asked.
She gave me paper and a pen.
I heard you were sick and came to see you after celebrating Passover dinner. I pray you will recover. Please forgive me for anything I did to hurt you. I forgive you. Let there be peace between us. Remember that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die.” Tomorrow is Resurrection Sunday. May you know new life. Lonna
At the bottom of the paper, I drew a heart and flowers, wishing I had colored ink. Mere black lines against white seemed so desolate.
This is a pathetic attempt at words, I thought (and me the writer). I handed the note to the nurse. Will it make a difference? Will he even know I wrote it? Can there be peace between us?
I walked back toward the double door and passed through. It closed silently behind me.
At the sound of metal against metal in the door jam, I realized I had just prayed for the life of my worst enemy. If he recovered, he would still fight me, try to keep my children from me, make whatever contact we had a constant struggle for the kids and me.
Oh, well, I thought. Revenge is never sweet. I do not want it.
“Then Peter came to Him and said,
‘Lord, how often shall my brother
sin against me,
and I forgive him?
Up to seven times?’
Jesus said to him,
‘I do not say to you,
up to seven times,
but up to seventy times seven.’”
Read the rest of my “Fire and Ice” book here: