Beside the Well

“Then the woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village . . .” John 4:28

 * * *

 People call me opportunistic. Immoral. Shameless.

I know words can’t hurt me. They shouldn’t. But they still do. I can’t stand their hard looks, their scathing words.

I especially avoid the women. They are vicious. I still remember their gossip by the well. As we filled our jars early in the morning by our father Jacob’s well. This was before my first husband. I was young, and I would stupidly titter at what they said, never imagining that one day those same women would tear me to shreds.

They accuse me of horrible things—but it wasn’t just my fault. And…I’m not that bad, am I? Very well. I am. I know it. But it’s too late to do anything about it.

I can live quite well; if not happy, then content, I suppose.

I don’t need to suffer my neighbors. It’s come to a point that they leave me alone. I don’t exist except as an outsider. The women will simply cross the street in order to avoid walking by me or going past me. “Respectable” men won’t look at me. The others leer and look at me suggestively. I ignore them.

When the sun is high, most people retire indoors. That is when I venture outside. Happily, no one goes to the well at noon.

Wrong. There is someone sitting beside the well. A man. Must be a traveler. I press toward the well anyway, and proceed to fill my jug of water. I pretend to be absorbed in my task while I study him out of the corner of my eye.

He is not from these parts. He is a Jew. No matter. Custom ensures that he will not bother me. Jews consider themselves too important to look or even speak to a Samaritan—let alone a Samaritan woman.

And yet I feel his gaze upon me.

What is he looking at? Is it so plain to see? Is my past branded in my face? It is insufferable. I complete my task and am about to raise my jug go my shoulder when he breaks the silence, asking me for a drink of water.

 * * *

 And so began the conversation that changed my life. I completely forgot about customs, I completely forgot about my water jug, and engaged in open conversation with a complete stranger. When he said he had water better than Jacob’s well, my first impulse was that of incredulity—this travel-stained stranger higher than my ancestors? But when he explained the nature of what he offered, I wanted to receive it. I wanted that water. I wanted to quench my thirst and never, ever be thirsty again. I wanted to never again feel the shame I daily felt whenever I set foot out of the house. I wanted . . . .

There’s so many old stories in our tradition. As a child I grew listening to them in great rapture. I never tired of hearing about Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel. Their love stories began at beside the well. The meeting at that place marked a change—a new beginning.

For the first time I felt that I could reach out in hope and not be disillusioned, not be hurt. That there was something of meaning even for me– and I did not need to look to men (other than this messenger from God) to find it in my life!

I wanted everyone to know about it.

I had met the Messiah.

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