Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Conflict Resolved

He had always thought she was a good girl. No, that wasn’t the right word. Good girls came in two flavours, in his experience. The first sort were dull and insipid, and afraid of their own shadows. They never had an interesting opinion or an original thought. They were boring, and ultimately rather nauseating, like food without salt. The thought of spending the rest of his life sharing his bed, his hearth and his children with a woman like that made him shudder. Then there was the second sort, so demure and respectable on the outside, so careful of their reputations – but he had seen their roving eyes when they thought no one was looking and their secret amusement at things that were indecent or mean-spirited, and he had no trust in such girls, and was not young enough to be excited by the things they promised but, in his observation, never fully gave. Besides, as a pious Jew, he knew that none but God was truly good.

She was something else, his Mary. Her eyes were honest and clear, and she looked directly at a person when she spoke to them, without downcast eyes or sidelong glances. She spoke from her heart; gently, because her spirit was gentle, but with genuine surprise when others had not seen as she did. She was too young to have learned of the world’s hypocrisy and wanton cruelty, but he suspected that when she did realise these things, it would make no difference to the light in her smile and the truth in her soul. So how could this have happened? How?

He felt like tearing something or breaking something. Mary was with child. Had some careless lout defiled her? Had she been seduced by some cunning foreigner without understanding what was happening to her until it was too late? He tried to think of excuses, of some reasonable explanation that belonged to the world he knew, but at every suggestion she simply shook her head and repeated her crazy story about an angel. Two months ago he would have sworn on every word and jot and tittle of the Torah that she was the sanest and truest person he had ever met, but she would not change her story. And when he pointed out, exasperated beyond measure, that virgins simply did not have children, she simply smiled and agreed and reminded him that she had asked the angel the same question.

What was a man to do? He didn’t want a scandal and he had no desire to shame her, but his trust had been shattered, and the dissonance between who she was and what she must have done was tearing him to shreds. He would put her away quietly, surely that was the only decent thing to do, wasn’t it?

It was late that night when he fell asleep, crushed at last into exhaustion by his grief. And then the angel appeared to him. Not that he had any idea what an angel should look like, but there was no mistaking this glorious one for anything less than a messenger from heaven. And the angel confirmed every strange and troubling word of Mary’s story. She really was still virgin and the child really was from God. This was a great and holy mystery, and he was caught between the flooding relief that Mary still was all that he had believed her to be, and the trembling awe that he was called to walk by her side through these things that were so far from his ordinary wake-a-day world.  Tears of wonder blurred his sight and he could not even name why he wept. He only knew that first thing in the morning he must go and tell her that now he understood.

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