photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy, flickr
There once was a man who lived in a pine forest. Every evening, he laid a woman’s nightgown beside him in his big iron bed. Every evening, he set two extra places at his broad table. Every week, he bought food and clothing for the family he did not yet have. He bought toys for the child, jewelry for his wife.
Every night he prayed to his god fervently: “God, please give me a wife I can love and cherish, please give me a child. I am prepared to be your humble servant in all things related to these matters. I am a man, full of love. I will love my wife as my own flesh, my child as the flesh from my wife’s womb.”
One morning, the man woke to two tiny feet pressing against his shoulder. A baby! The man praised his god. He clothed the baby in the garments already bought for the child and gave him the milk stored in his home.
But he was puzzled how to present the child to the town since he was unmarried. He knew he should trust god and bravely and simply said, when anyone asked: “This is my new baby, praise god! I was alone in the world and god has seen fit to grant me a son.”
Adoption laws being what they were, everyone shrugged, congratulated the man, and went on about their own hectic lives. The man would know soon enough how hard it was to be a father and if he had strength enough for it he deserved the fulfillment of his prayers, for good or ill.
One night after the child had gone to sleep, the man sat on his porch. The pines creaked and the sound of the wind soughing in the bows amplified his loneliness and he prayed: “God, you brought me a miracle. You see how I have handled what you have seen fit to give me. If a bad father gives a stone to the son who asks for bread, how much more will you give?”
Carried along on the wind was a sound barely distinguishable from the soughing of the pines. It was a woman crying. The man searched his porch, but he could not find the source. He went out into the woods and there among the shadows was a woman, dressed in a white gown, shivering.
“Where have you come from?” said the man, putting his heavy wool coat around her shoulders and lifting her from the forest floor so she would not further damage her tender feet.
“I have given you a child,” said the woman, “a child I had no means of supporting. And now please sir, I wish to hold my son.”
The man’s heart filled with pity and with something else besides for the woman was very beautiful and young.
“You may hold your son for as long as you wish. I will make it possible for you. I will give to you whatever you require.”
And seeing there was no ring on the young woman’s finger, he made her the bride of his heart and did not question anything, only praised his god for his good fortune. When the woman slept in his bed, holding her son, the two the image of peace and warmth, he knelt all night in the wood in wonder.
There once was a man who was tired of his wife. It was well known how many errors she had committed, and the number of errors was well past her ability to make up for them, even if she began engaging in acts of contrition the first moment he expressed his discontent and worked continuously, around the clock.
His wrath had built up. Number of laundry baskets not completed per day. Number of times the dishes were stacked in the sink. Number of times she was with her foolish friends rather than at the market. Number of times she was late getting the children to school. Number of pounds she had gained since their marriage. Number of times she did not attend worship services. Number of times he had come home from work to see her face and hair in their natural state. Number of times she had indulged in her projects and made cold meals rather than cook. Number of times she expected him to help her while she pursued her education. Number of times she disappointed his extended family.
And so, she became a terrible wife among those who worshiped his god, became an outcast and despised.
He prayed: “Oh god, why have you given me such a terrible wife? As a young man growing up, I tried to do the right thing, and yet you did not see that I was worthy of your favor?”
He prayed this at night, on his knees, in the living room, so that his wife heard, though their children slept the sleep of the innocent. It frustrated him how much they forgave her.
Being a man of ambition and righteousness, he knew the ways of the unrighteous and what would eventually befall her. Here is what he knew: The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.
Frustrated with his god, he existed in the house with his wife, neither praising nor belittling her, pouring his love and attention onto his children so that even if she became an angel to them, he would be even more perfect.
As it happened, she became wayward and ruined and he was enabled to be rid of her in all good conscience in the sight of his community.
“Thank you, God,” he said, “for this opportunity to start again.” And all the man’s wishes were granted, according to the dictates of his god.