I am the man who was ransomed by a hundred pigs, a hundred pigs and one young stranger. The swineherds have never forgiven me. Whenever they see me they throw rocks and obscenities.
Their terror amuses and saddens me. I can tell that some of them are tormented like I was, and these days I can help with things like that. (As you can see, I’ve become a healer; don’t ask me how.) But those who walk too close to madness do not like to be reminded of their vulnerability by one such as I. And besides, there was the incident with the pigs.
I will never forget their careening race down the slope and into the water of the great lake across which the stranger came to salvage me. How the water foamed and churned as I watched in slack-jawed amazement. What power my tormentors held! What energy! What life! Almost I wished myself one of the swine, to die so gloriously possessed. Almost.
Something kept me on the shore, leaning where I had collapsed against the legs of the young teacher. And then his friends gave me a robe and sandals, fed me and sat with me while I got my first taste of the empty reaches of my own heart. Such simple acts.
Even that soon after my ransom something new was blossoming in me – a tiny fire, bright and warm. I knew myself blessed, “Shalomed,” as I like to say these days, borrowing the word from the strangers’ tongue.
I wanted to go away with the young man and his friends, kite across the surface of the water the pigs had so spectacularly sunk beneath. But that Jesus, he looked in my eyes for a long time until finally his eyes crinkled into a smile. “You’ll be all right,” he said. “My Shalom be with you.” And so he sealed my fate.
These days I have very few friends, and no one claims me as brother or cousin, though my mother and I sometimes share a quiet meal in the little home on the edge of the city that my work as a healer has afforded me. My people do not love me, no. They only come near me when they are in need of healing or of peace. My wrists are twisted where I used to break them to free myself from the shackles. They ache when night falls and the land cools. My legs do, too, though I don’t know why. Perhaps they were injured badly during one of those mad careening scrambles to the caves when the monsters in my head lent me inhuman strength and carried me away. Sometimes I tremble all over and I cannot stop until the fit runs its course.
But even so my life is full and rich. As helplessly and as frequently as I was once possessed by demons, I am now overcome by love. Everything floods me with it: the cat I feed in the alley, the people who appear at my door, trees in the new light of morning, the sounds of the caravans as they leave the city for the desert. I am constantly gasping in wonder at all the colors, sounds – smells! I am a child, a buffoon, a fool.
The young man’s Shalom has warded my heart, and I have developed a taste for all that is creative, compassionate and whole-making. It’s just the way things are.
These days I know my own name, but I don’t use it so much. You and I are one, you see. We flow into each other; we belong to one another. Fill up your water skin now and see if that injury that had you limping doesn’t feel a little better. I know you need to be on your way. I am the man who was ransomed by a hundred pigs and the rabbi, Jesus. My Shalom be with you.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: “Shalom” by Epson291 at English Wikipedia Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –