Having lost balance and control the river carries me. I come to rest not too far from an older lady. She is standing firm in her place, unmovable as the rest, yet her eyes hold a bit of life in them. She sees me and smiles.
“Sonny, that’s not the way to do it,” she says to me.
“The way to do what?” I ask.
“To get a man to drink.”
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Her voice has a familiar ring to it.
“He wants that river more than he realizes. He would love to have the water rush over him,” she says.
“Oh. Really? You can see? And hear? And speak?”
“Yes sonny. We are not all handicapped – well, not all completely handicapped anyhow..”
“Have you tasted the river then?”
“Oh, yes! Long ago… Long ago. I had my fill! I remember the day the wine skin crossed my path. ”
“Then why do you stand here, immobile and stained?”
“Along the way things happen… people grow. I grew weary. I grew frustrated. I grew bitter. I grew stagnant. I looked up one day and realized my wine skin was gone. Until, now, here I am in my place – relegated to drinking mere sips of the river from feeble cupped hands…”
“Tell me about the wine skin – is that why the man wasn’t healed by the water? It didn’t come through the wine skin?”
“Yes, and no. The river was offensive to him, not because of the water itself. He wants the water. He was offended because you were focused on the wrong thing. His need – our need – is not the outward filth.”
“I thought he would feel revived as I was. I enjoyed drinking from the wine skin, but I loved letting the river cover me and cleanse me… and… I thought he would too”
“Before the outward can be refreshed – the inward thirst must be assuaged.”
“And that’s where the wine skin helps? Quenching the thirst?”
“Yes – now you’re getting it. And that’s why these old frail hands are inadequate – sips cannot satisfy my longing… But I let mine go – Sonny, don’t ever let your wine skin go, never. No matter what comes along. Hold fast to it.”
“But this isn’t really mine – a girl gave it to me.”
The old woman chuckled.
“That’s just it, none of us has our ‘own’ really – everyone that has ever held it knows they have received it as a gift. No one really possess the wine skin. As for the girl, she still has ‘hers’ and that one is ‘yours’ now. That is the mysterious thing about the skins. You possess it. It possesses you. And, when you share it with another thirsting soul, you both leave full and each with a wine skin in hand.”
“Really? That seems simple… Just share it with someone else?”
“Sonny… it wasn’t so simple sharing with that man, now was it?”
Now I chuckle. “No ma’am, I suppose it wasn’t. I was just compelled to do something and move. How do you share the wine skin the right way?”
“Moving is right. But, what were you being moved by?”
“…and …and a bit of anger.”
“Exactly. You won’t help anyone be filled by being moved with cold and anger. Those are not cleansing motivations. You have to learn to be moved the way the river wants you to move…”
“How is that?”
“Think of the girl. What was she moved with when she reached you? Did she thrash at you? Did she fling the cold at you? Was the river a weapon she wielded to whittle you into what she dreamed you should be?”
She stopped abruptly interrupted by a coughing spell. “All this talking – my throat is dry…”
I hand her my wine skin. She drinks. The woman empties the skin, bends to refill it, comes back up – her hair no longer grey, but red… and long. By long, I mean long. Hands no longer withered, but strong – with fingers that look to be fitted to dance along piano keys. Face no longer wrinkled but clean and young, shining bright green eyes. Sharing a smile showcasing less than perfect teeth. I look and see that we are both holding our own wine skins, but I remember handing her my own…
“With what was I moved when I touched your shoulder? With what have I been moved as we stand here and speak?” She implores.
There is no hesitation as I answer, my voice is strong, and clear – as I have not heard it yet: