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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Hermit Woman

Once, many, many years ago, long before you were born, an old hermit lady lived outside a little fishing village on the coast of the sea. She was nice, as everyone said, and polite and as well-kept as a hermit lady would be, and yet none traveled to see her as they traveled to see the other hermits, many of whom lived farther away than she.

And she did not understand this. She was not bitter, nor was she jealous, she was not even envious of the visitors who knocked upon the doors of the other hermits. Instead, she was curious. She thought to herself about why it should be that the other hermits had so many visitors. Those who did come, left, saying that she was indeed wise, and those she met when selling her baskets in the market by the sea, said she was kind. She did not ask for these praises, they were simply given her, and yet, so few there were who knocked, that she puzzled over this on many occasions.

You can be certain she did not spend much time on it, for she had many other thoughts with which to spend her time - thoughts concerning the glory of God and the folly of man. She included her own folly in those thoughts and dwelt upon them, praying for grace and hoping for a sudden transformation, though she knew that such transformations must take time. Many years went by, and still, the villagers came but once or twice a month at most, seeking her guidance and asking for wisdom.

One day as she walked to the market with her baskets, she passed by an old beggar woman in need of bread. "I have none to give," she said to the old woman. It was true, she was going to sell her baskets so that she could buy the bread upon which she lived, and she thought to herself, "Oh, I wish I had had some bread just then, I could have helped that old woman."

Another day as she returned to her hut, she saw a leper looking sad, and as he looked at her, she said to herself, "Poor, dear man, if only someone would look after him. Where are the Saints to help us with these tasks when they are needed?" And with that, she continued home.

Still, she prayed for grace to be holy, to be generous and self-giving, to do away with all the things that bound her and separated her from God. So one morning, as she walked her usual path for prayer, a little boy walked out of the field, kicking rocks as he wept. "What an angry little boy," thought the hermit lady to herself, "I certainly would not wish to be his mother." As she finished her thought, the little boy turned his dirty face towards her, and she saw he had an ugly little face, marked with pocks and horrible to look at. At first she turned away, but then a bit of pity took her and she looked back with marvel, "Come here, little boy. Is there something which you need, something which you want?"

"Miss Hermit Lady, I wished to get a drink from the well, but the other boys won't let me near. I am very thirsty, and that is all I want in the world."

"Well, then, come with me, and a drink of water you shall have."

Many months went by as the months do fly while the hermit lady wove her baskets and told her beads, hoping for a miracle, looking for peace. One day while walking to the market, she met the same old lady who had begged of her before, and seeing her, still in need, she said, "Come with me, I am going to sell my baskets to buy bread, come with me and we will feast."

Another day, she saw the leper looking sad once more, and seeing him, her heart was moved, and she begged him stay in her hut, but he refused, asking instead for her to walk with him. And so they walked many miles until at last they came to a little village, too tiny to be called a village, and yet too big for anything else. Here she saw that he was not alone, for many lepers there were and her eyes were filled with tears, looking upon the sadness of their faces. Thinking she knew not what she could do, she began to turn away, but then she asked, "What, what can I do for you?"

And so the old hermit lady lived no longer as a hermit, but instead she lived amongst the lepers, caring for them as no other cared for them, accepting them in their sad state until at last she became a leper too, and then they cared for her as no other had and visited her as none had visited her before.

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