The return from Jerusalem to Magdala took days and, as an adult, looking back, I can see my adolescent response to leaving Joshua was manifested in temper tantrums, hostile responses and general unpleasantness. In short, I was horrid to be around: angry and sullen and spending most of the time looking at the ground, uttering one word answers to my father when he would ask questions.Father eventually tired of trying to amuse and cheer me up. He wandered here and there, talking with other families we had met along the way. His joyful laugh would ring out across the desert landscape and at the time I couldn't appreciate at it for the beautiful sound it was. I miss it today. But that's another story.
Joshua's brother James found me on the second day of the journey home and we walked for some of the journey. We didn't say much and it was comfortable. But he did tell me pieces about Joshua and their life together. James looked up to Joshua, always wanted to be with him, following him around like the kid brother that he was.
"It's not that Mom treats him differently," he said, "but there's something there, some distance that is in her. I believe she's happy when she laughs, and I believe that she's content when she looks up at us, all gathered around the dinner table, but there's also something more. It has to do with Joshua, although I don't know what. Something in her eyes. Something that lies beneath the surface. Sometimes I think it's sorrow. Sometimes I believe it's the eyes of God, looking out on the world. I know that it is blaspheme to say so, but there's something distant and knowing in my mother's eyes."
Don't ever let anyone tell you James wasn't paying attention. As much as the stories tell of the angel descending on Mary and impregnating her with the Holy Spirit, I believe that an old soul returned to earth with the birth of her second child. James always knew things. Things that were beyond knowing. Mary once told me that he was the oldest soul she'd ever met. She and James were kindred souls, if you ask me.
James and I became friends that day and we've been friends ever since. I've often thought that my life could've been so much easier, maybe even happier, if I'd fallen in love with James, if he'd taken me for a wife. But it was never to be. We were always meant to be other. The ones who journeyed with Joshua, the ones who watched, both from a far and up close. We were destined to be witnesses, to be the storytellers. And while I have, on more than one occasion, sought solace in James, solace that no one else can give, save Joshua himself, James was, is, destined to be a friend and a companion, but never a husband.
I write and I digress. This story wasn't supposed to be about James. It was supposed to be about Martha and Lazarus. So let me try to get there. To get there, I have to tell you a bit more about my father.
My father, Benjamin, loved my mother. For years, through her illness, of course, but more than that. I was born late to them. They had assumed they would never have children and Father always said I was "an unexpected gift from God." My mother, having been sick for so much of my life, was somewhat of a mystery to me--always weak, tired, resting. My father told me stories of her before she was sick--of her dancing with abandon and debating with skill, asking questions and learning. My mother loved to learn. She was a terrible cook because she would rather be sitting the feet of a teacher than slaving over a meal. Of food, she learned enough to get by, but part of what my father loved was her spirit and zeal for life. "She could no more be contained in a kitchen than you could, my little fisher girl," he once said.
When my mother died, my father mourned, as did I. But his grief, he would tell me in later years, was mixed with relief. "The woman I loved became a shadow of herself when the illness took root in her. I wish you had known your mother when she was well. She loved you more than anything. She would carry you out, swaddled on her back, and sing songs to you as she walked to the well for water. Fierce and full of fire, she would move through the village with you. Everything she loved became amplified. Her passions increased. She was so beautiful and full of life. And then the illness came. And it took her, slowly. Piece by piece. She was still beautiful, until the day she died, but it took the fire away from her, the passion, although she fought it as long as she could. She was, Mary," my father said, "like you. A seeker. A listener. And seen as danger by those who would have women stay home and quiet." He chuckled. "You have her zeal. And her fire. And for that, I will always be grateful. And for that, I will always worry. But then, my Mary, I am your father and it's my job to worry." His eyes twinkled.
It was on the trip back from Jerusalem that my father met the widow Rachel, who lived in Nazareth. Rachel had two children, Martha and Lazarus. Petite with dark brown hair, she was the antithesis of my mother, who had been tall and curvy and easy to spot by her bright red hair. Rachel was everything my mother was not. And that was, I suppose, exactly what my father needed.
Enough writing for now. But you can see where this is going. Martha and Lazarus would enter my world in no small way, in a short matter of time.