By: Stephen Johnson
Published on Rise and Converge, January 3, 2011
Where I live now, there are many trees. The wind blows through the leaves as I sit in my chair and watch them flitter. Dark green. Light green. The sun shines, almost blinding my old eyes. It is the color I love, and the light. Brightness. Purity.
“Do not go to the fig tree anymore,” my dad said long ago. “It is forbidden.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Yeah, why?” asked Asher. He had a habit of repeating everything I said, typical of a younger brother.
My father raised his eyebrow and gave me his look. He did not say a word. Of course, this made us want to visit the fig tree even more.
It was a large tree, for its kind. Its gnarled trunk reached out in many directions. This was inviting to us children. How could it not be? The trunk seemed carved out of marble with undulations like the tendons on the greatest Roman statues. However, the perfection of those godlike images is no match for the beauty of the fig tree. And you cannot play on a statue, as I would have said when I was young.
I lived near the town of Gadara, found southeast of the Sea of Galilee. My father’s home was near the tombs. He was a blacksmith and a hardworking man. My mother had died giving life to my brother. So it was the three of us.
The fig tree was near the entrance of the graveyard. After our lessons, my brother and I would run to a large stone formation and look at the tree. It captivated us. Of course it was alive, but it looked more alive than any shrub or bush growing I had ever seen. And since it stood in front of the entrance to the tombs, I felt the tree protected the community, and more importantly, my family.
I say entrance, but there was no gate or fence. The entrance was a dirt path leading down to the tombs. There were tall, sharp rocks on either side at the top of the path. Their jagged tops were clearly defined against the sky to my young eyes, piercing the pale blue. I can still see them. I can also see the hillside and the lake.
One afternoon, my brother and I ran to our spot behind the stones and hid. We began looking at the tree.
There was a reason we hid. It was the same reason none who recently passed from this life had been placed in the tombs.
We heard footsteps coming up the path, but we could not see the approaching figure. The fig and the sloping path obstructed our view. The steps were quiet because the man was not wearing sandals. We already knew he was barefoot because we had seen him twice before that week. Both times, he was not wearing anything.
And luckily, he had not seen us.
“Reuben,” my brother said, looking up at me with his large eyes. “Is he walking –?“
“Shhh, Asher,” I replied. “He is close.”
His (I say his because even then I could not say its, or more precisely, their) name was David, but the town members seemed to have forgotten that. They knew him by a new name the man had given himself. For some reason, and to this day I still do not understand why, my brother continued calling him David.
The man’s new name conjured Roman soldiers I had seen a handful of times, marching near the sea. Shiny chariots and large salivating horses filled my mind. Fear had not made its way into my dreams yet. It would soon, however.
“Reuben, where is he?” my brother asked louder than I would have liked.
“Shhh. Hush now.”
The beating of my heart was loud in my ears, and for a moment that is all I heard. I thought the man had left and I was about to tell Asher it was safe to go home. The fun was over. I’d gotten my thrill and could go back to my father’s shop.
Then I heard the growling.
This is what haunts me still. As I lie awake at night by myself, I can hear the low, guttural horror coming from the man’s mouth. It was the sound of thousands of men chanting and moaning at the same time. It was a continual harmonizing. The voices would sing or moan, and when those voices began to die out, more singing and moaning would commence. They sounded low, but the only way I remember it now is darkness. Better yet, emptiness, although the scope of the singing seemed larger than anything I had ever heard before. It was as if the voices came from another world, and were trying to break back to that plain. They were no doubt suffering terribly.
I have heard the sound dying animals make. I have also heard the sound of dying men and women, but what haunts me is the voices of the man who lived in the tombs. Sometimes it keeps me up at night and I rise from my bed, light a candle, and pray.
Other times I will be sleeping peacefully and am awoken by the unsettling cacophony. I hear one voice, and then another, until the moaning voices converge into a louder and louder collection of agony, resulting in a tumultuous din of anger, anxiety, and desperation. In this instance, I also wake up, rise from bed, light a candle, and begin to pray.
When I remember the singing, I think about how much there is in existence that I do not know. I think about how large all creation is. That largeness scares me. It is almost stifling, and I am sure as long as I breathe I will never feel differently. Maybe even after I am done breathing.
On that day long ago though, I would not say I was afraid. It may have been because I was there, in the moment. It also could have been protectiveness I felt for my brother. Or, perhaps, it was because I had put both of us in that situation for the thrill of it all.
Whatever the case, my younger brother and I lay still behind the stones, trying to work up the courage to raise our heads and look at the source of the sound. I finally did, and I saw the man kicking the dirt and throwing his hands in the air. His mouth was wide open, and those terrible voices reverberated throughout the area.
He turned his back toward us and walked behind the fig tree, making it hard to see him. Suddenly, he bent down on his haunches, slowly rocking back and forth. His long, unkempt hair fell in a tangled mess down his back.
“What is he doing?” Asher whispered. “Why is he quiet?”
I dropped my head back behind the stone protection and looked at my brother. His lip was trembling, which made me angry. I was frustrated he wasn’t acting braver.
“I am going to go around to the other side of the stones to get a better look,” I said. His eyes grew bigger quickly. “You stay here. Do not move.”
I could tell now he was trying to be brave, even though his lip had not stopped trembling. “Okay,” he managed.
I took a deep breath and looked at him. I wanted to tell him I was sorry, now that his attempt at being courageous was warming my frigidness, but I just tightened my mouth and turned around. I began creeping around the base of the formation. I walked around one large stone protruding out further than the rest, making my way farther to the right, which I believed would give me a clear line of sight behind the tree.
When I reached the end of the formation, I dropped low to the ground and began crawling slowly on my hands and knees. As I moved forward, more of the area around the graveyard’s entrance came into sight. I kept my head up, breathing steadily even though my heart was now pounding even louder than before. Eventually I inched myself close enough to see the gnarled tree in all its humble splendor, but one thing was missing.
The man was no longer crouching behind the tree. I could not see him at all.
It probably took three seconds to register that the man was no longer swaying back and forth as a snake being tamed. Then fear stuck, and I turned around quickly, thinking he had perhaps materialized behind me as I concentrated on my crawling.
That is when I heard the scream.
At first, the pitch was so high I thought it belonged to a girl. I actually thought it was a possibility that the man had kidnapped a girl. Then, the reality of what was happening came into focus, and the breath was taken out of me by what I saw.
The man had Asher by the back of his neck, and he was pulling my brother toward the graveyard’s entrance. My brother, for all his courage, was in shock and did not fight. It was as if the man was dragging a lifeless doll the size of an eight-year-old.
I was still crouching, nails digging into my knees, drawing blood. I have never been so frightened in all my life. During the war in which I would fight many years later, I remember hiding from the enemy. I felt death was imminent during battle, but having this prior experience with fear helped me find a way to survive. At least, that is what I believe.
The man pulled Asher’s frozen body to the fig tree and threw him down in the dust. For a moment, I thought my brother was dead, but then I saw him curl into the fetal position.
The man walked around in circles and wrung his hands in the air. Then he began pulling at his beard. It looked like he was actually pulling out tuffs of hair. He was muttering something at first, so the voices were low and I could not hear much besides his shuffling and erratic movements. Then the shrieking began.
If I am woken up at night, the memory of this event is usually what does it. I remember the man yelling, and as I have said, it was a multitude of voices. They mostly sounded male, but that is just because they were deep. The truth is they could have just as well been female voices. This discrepancy aside, the gender is not what sent chills down my spine that day. It was the eagerness of the voices emanating from the man’s mouth. The fear. And, as I’ve said before, the sounds opened up in my mind’s eye a deeper reality I had never comprehended. They revealed to me there is more to this world than a person sees.
At first the voices were in congruence. This was when they yelled out, “What shall we do to the boy, Legion? What shall we do to this precious one?”
Then, a deconstruction of voices cried out. Some said the same thing at the same time. Others spoke out individually. Sometimes a response was garnered, but mostly it seemed they rarely listened to each other.
“We shall murder him and drink his blood, it is what we did in the days of old.”
“Yes, yes. Good days. When we drank blood.”
“Let him go!”
“Ah, we shall frighten him and let him be on his way.”
“Let him go!”
“To kill him would serve no purpose.”
“To kill him would meet a need.”
“We are short on time!”
“Law had his chance. It is my chance!”
“He is in our hands. He is in Legion’s hands.”
“Who cares, who lives, who dies?”
“The abyss! We must not go. I must not go!”
The man stood with his mouth open. Sometimes he mouthed the words being spoken. Spittle flying from his lips. Other times he arched his head back and widened his mouth, allowing the voices to pour out. Saliva dripped down into his matted beard.
Although the man wore no clothes, I almost did not notice his nakedness. Dirt covered his body, so it was as if he was covered. My brother lay with his arms over his head. It looked as if he was dead as the man’s spittle rained down on him.
Then, just as suddenly as the man – whom the voiced had called “Legion” – let forth the mishmash of audible agony and torment, the tone changed quickly, and all the voices took on a more hushed tone.
“The Son is moving.”
“He is moving! Rumblings tell me this. They whisper in the dark places.”
“They whisper and they talk and they tell of destruction! Who are we?”
“He is in this place. He is on this place. He breathes the air and walks on dirt.”
“He touches lepers.”
“Oh no, there are rumblings coming now!”
“They are bubbling up from the bottom of it all.”
“There are the stories.”
“There was the sower.”
“There was a lamp under a jar”
“A storm was calmed!”
“Oh, if a storm will be calmed, he has the power.”
“He has the power to destroy me.”
“He has the power to throw me in the abyss.”
“There is no protection for me. I was tricked!”
This is when I saw Asher’s shoulders shaking. He must have been crying, and who knows how long. The voices seemed to shriek forever. Arguing, agreeing, coming to a consensus, falling into disorder. I did not understand what was being said, but the gravity of what could soon happen to my brother was becoming more of a reality.
This was when one voice broke away from the others. It sounded old. Much older than the rest. Legion stood with his mouth open. His naked body was perfectly still.
“The Most High is on his way and will be here soon. First come men. Then chains. Then shackles. You will run and eat your bitter heart. Then comes the Most High, who may spare you all.”
Legion closed his mouth and looked at my brother’s crumpled body. There was intensity in his eyes that I could tell from many feet away. It looked like anger. Or restraint. If I could see the look now, as an old man, maybe I could tell the difference.
Legion began speaking again, lips moving rapidly.
“If the Most High is here we must not murder.”
“We’ve murdered goats.”
“That is not murder, only killing.”
“We may have a chance.”
“We must let this boy live.”
“We must let this boy die.”
“He will live, but we will hide him.”
“But why? For what purpose would that serve?”
“He will be hidden.”
“We will hide him.”
“We will let him go.”
Amidst the arguing, Legion picked Asher off the ground and began carrying him through the entrance with the jagged rocks and down the dirt path to the graveyard. The voices never ceased their clamor; they just became more faint as Legion left the fig tree and made his way toward the tombs with my brother in his arms.
I was left alone, still clawing my bloody knees with my fingernails as Asher managed a few feeble kicks and was dragged out of sight.
After a few moments of staring numbly at the jagged rocks, I threw up. The sound of my retching must not have been too loud, because Legion did not come back up to the entrance.
I wiped my mouth and felt the muscles in my abdomen slowly contracting. Two thoughts ran through my mind. The first was to run and get help. This is what I was willing myself to get up and do.
The second thought was to run down into the graveyard after Asher.
I was feeling a strange mixture of fear and clear-headedness. The fear was telling me to run to my father, or the first person I saw in the village, and tell them what happened. This seemed like a good plan; until the nagging thought crept into my mind that Asher would be dead before anyone came.
I was his only hope.
I can’t say for certain how long I stayed crouched in that position, thinking through the options. What was happening was real, but it did not feel that way. I just stared at my bloody knees with deep intensity. I thought I was going to run to the village when words Legion had spewed came back to me:
The Son is moving… they whisper and they talk and they tell of destruction… he is in this place… he breathes the air and walks on dirt… he touches lepers… there was the sower… there was a lamp under a jar… the storm was calmed… he has the power to throw me in the abyss… the abyss is real.
At the time, this recollection had no meaning to me and I still do not completely understand what it means. I have an idea, but I am an old man now and set in my ways about the way things are.
The memory of these words worked like a trance, however. I stood up, but it was not of my accord. I began walking. I could still feel the uncomfortable sickness of fear in my stomach, but I was no longer immobile.
I was walking toward the graveyard’s entrance.
The jagged, sharp rocks became bigger, until I was walking past them. They loomed high overhead. Slowly, I made the descent into the graveyard.
The path led down into a canyon, and the walls of the canyon became higher the further I ventured forward. This place seemed darker than up above. Shadows from the canyon walls covered the tombs and headstones.
There was a rustling in some dark, dry bushes. Then a squeal. Suddenly, two pigs jumped out of the shadows of the bush and rushed toward me.
I jumped behind the closest headstone and crouched as I had done behind the large stone grouping near the fig tree. The pigs ran past me, squealing and shrieking their way up toward the rest of their herd who were no doubt grazing on a nearby hillside.
Now, all I felt was pure focus. The fear had worked itself into an intensity I would feel many times later in life during the war, as a young man. The mission now was to find my brother and avoid Legion.
I ran from gravesite to gravesite, hiding behind markers and a few simplistic statues. After a few minutes of this, I came to a part of the cemetery devoted just to tombs.
Some of the tombs were carved into the walls of the canyon. Others were large boxes with stone lids covering them.
There was no sign of Asher or Legion. It was as if they had disappeared.
I anticipated Legion jumping out from behind pilings of rocks or tombs, but it did not happen. The further I walked, the braver I became. Eventually, I began whispering, “Asher. Asher.” There was no response.
Terrible thoughts began flooding my mind, things that could be happening to Asher at that very moment. Things I could not stop from happening.
It was my idea to hide behind the stones and watch for Legion to come out of the graveyard. It was me who was careless about leaving my younger brother unprotected when I moved to get a closer look at the madman. It was me who could not find him while he was most likely experiencing the most horrible experience possible.
The Son is moving…
I knelt behind a tomb and rested my head on its coarse side. I began banging my forehead against the stone, pleading with a higher power I had never prayed to before to show me where my brother was. Tears were pouring down my face, and I wanted to curl up on the dirt right there and join Asher in whatever afterlife he had most likely entered.
Just then, I heard soft whimpering not too far away. I looked up expecting to see a pig nearby, but there was nothing.
I listened more closely. The whimpering was muffled, as if whatever was making the sound was gagged or locked away somewhere.
Like in a tomb.
I began rushing around frantically, putting my ear to each box-like tomb, listening for where the sound was coming from. I tried a few tombs with no avail, but the whimpering was becoming louder.
I looked around for Legion. There was no sign of him. If I had been a more experienced youth, I would have checked the ground for footprints. The thought never crossed my mind.
Finally, I put my ear near a tomb where the crying was the loudest. I looked at the top and saw that the stone lid was askew. This gave me a corner to grip and pull. I lost my hold from my effort, but the lid moved a little. I grabbed the corner of the lid again and pulled harder, which allowed for enough space to look down into the tomb. I hoisted myself up onto the lid and peered in.
A body lay curled up in the darkness of the tomb, crying louder now that the lid was open. Asher probably thought Legion was back because he was now in a prone position covering his ears with his hands.
“No!” he cried out. “No. Leave. Leave me alone! Please… please…”
“Asher,” I said. “Asher, it’s me. Reuben.” He stopped yelling but did not look up. “I am going to get you out of there.”
I jumped down from the top of the tomb and pulled the edge of the lid that was hanging off the far corner of the stone box. After a few hard yanks, I moved the lid enough to allow me to pull Asher out.
As I lifted myself up to the top again, I thought about how strong one person must have been to move the lid so quickly and place Asher in without me seeing.
I reached down through the opening.
“Asher, quick, give me your hand.”
Asher was still facing away from me. As I spoke, he tightened his hold on both ears and made a troubling sound. It was not crying. I have always thought of it as the sound a human makes when extreme fear has struck.
I was a lot bigger than Asher and could easily pick him up, so I reached down further into the tomb, grabbed him around the waist, and hoisted him up.
I misjudged, pulling a little to hard, and we both fell off the top of the tomb and onto the ground.
As we landed, I let go of him and rolled. Asher hit the ground hard and did not move. I got on my feet and ran over to him. He was disoriented. There was a fierce look in his eyes, and he was breathing with his teeth clenched tightly. He did not fight me, however, when I picked him up, threw him over my shoulder, and began running back toward the fig tree.
I did not move five steps when I looked to my left and saw Legion standing about fifty yards away, just staring at me. He was perfectly still, his naked body dark in the shadows of the small canyon.
I ran faster than I ever have since. I could hear his footsteps. I could hear the sound of a thousand voices again. This time, they were screaming for me.
They were screaming my name. And Asher’s. To this day, I cannot get the sound of those voices saying my name out of my head. This wakes me up at night too. After all that would shortly happen, I would be wounded and scarred by the sound. It is my burden, and I will bear it until I die.
Legion was close behind me as I made my way up the incline. I saw the jagged rocks ahead, and shadowy figures. Light shined behind them, blinding me.
I had no idea who these figures were, but I was tired and could hear the voices screaming my name behind me. All I knew was I would take my chances with the shadowy outlines. Whatever they would do to my brother and me had to be better than what Legion had in store for us.
I ran in between the jagged rocks when I saw one of the figures swing a club near my head. I fell to the ground as the club passed overhead, crashing into Legion’s face.
I could no longer hear the myriad voices, only one now. It was Legion’s own voice. He was crying for help.
I looked up and saw the figures rushing past my brother and me. They pounded Legion as my delirious mind came back to reality.
My father’s face slowly came into focus. He dropped a club and cupped my face in both of his hands.
To this day I never found out if he was the one who first struck Legion with the club or if it was another man from the village.
He said to me, “Son, you are alive.” He looked down at Asher with pain in his eyes.
“He is alive too,” I feebly managed to say.
Then I passed out.
When I came to, I was lying on my blanket in my corner of our home. Asher was in the other corner, curled into a ball on my father’s lap. My father was stroking Asher’s head, singing an old song my mother used to sing to us. He was quite a good singer for a blacksmith.
I would later find out when we were late to return home, my father began to worry. He had no explanation for this, but he had a nagging feeling we had encountered Legion, which is why he did not want us to go to the fig tree anymore.
He did not have to worry about it too long, because shortly after he had this premonition, a pig herder who was a friend of my father’s ran to our home and told him he had been searching for two lost pigs when he saw Legion drag Asher into the graveyard. The herder had not seen me, however, and had rushed off to find my father before I went down into the canyon.
If my father was angry with me for endangering my and Asher’s lives, he never showed it. This was because when my mother died, he lost the ability to become angry with us. All he did was worry about our safety, as if we could be taken from him at any moment.
One would think my father’s lack of anger would have been welcoming to a youth of my age who made a stupid decision, but I felt the opposite. Asher was not the same as he was before the encounter with Legion. He stopped speaking, and rarely ate. He lay in our room all day, curled in a ball and staring at the wall.
I cannot describe the pain I felt. The guilt ate away at me. Everyday, there was a large weight on my shoulders. My stomach was in knots and I thought over and over again about how horrible it must have felt for Asher to hear those terrible voices as he was shut in the tomb, surrounded by utter darkness.
A few days after the event, I heard that Legion was beat up badly by the townsmen who had appeared at the entrance of the cemetery with my dad and the pig herder. They had chained and shackled him to the stone formation near the fig tree, and the townsmen took turns guarding him, night and day.
One night, both of the men who were guarding Legion fell asleep. Legion took this opportunity to break the chains and flee into the desert.
After Legion’ escape, the weeks passed by slowly. Asher grew no better. My father worked almost all the time, no doubt believing that pounding the metal in his shop was the only thing keeping him going.
I was more racked by guilt than anytime previously. Many times I would walk to a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee with heavy stones in my hands. I stood at the top contemplating whether or not I could hold on to the stones all the way to the bottom.
I thought about Legion’s voices:
He has the power to throw me in the abyss.
As I stood on the hillside, the abyss seemed real. I could almost see it down below in the water, swirling and pulsating. It looked at me indifferently as the dead writhed in agony, trying to escape.
If I thought killing myself would fix my problems, I probably would have jumped, but I knew this would destroy my father, and therefore, my brother.
I always threw the stones into the sea before returning home. I watched them until they splashed far below.
Rumors spread throughout the countryside that Legion had returned from the desert and was again living among the tombs. I never heard anyone say this directly, only faint whispers while those speaking turned away when they found I was in their presence. The village had taken a hands-off approach to me. Possibly because they felt I was reckless for allowing Legion to take my brother, or possibly because they believed I had witnessed something no clean person would ever have to endure.
It was around this time, I cannot remember the exact date, that a teacher who had been traveling the area with his followers was said to be on his way to Gerasenes. People spoke about how he raised a widow’s son from the dead and healed a centurion’s servant.
I first heard of this man when a few older people in the village were talking about some of the gossip that was being repeated throughout the countryside.
“’Judge not, and you will not be judged,’” the man who ran the market was saying. “He said, ‘Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ That’s what people are saying he said.”
“Does not sound like a Pharisee or a Sadducee,” said an older woman. “You say this man is a Jew?”
“Yes,” a younger shopper chimed in. “He is a Jew, and I have seen him.”
The conversation continued as I shopped, but I kept an attentive ear on what they were saying. Their emotions were running high. It was as if this teacher could conjure up the most heated discussion, for and against him.
Later is when I heard the teacher was sailing across the lake to Gerasenes. That afternoon when I was done with my studies, I ran to the lake and saw the largest crowd of people I had ever seen up until that point. They were not far from the hillside where I would stand with the stones in my hands and stare at the water.
The mass of people was formed around a small dock where a boat had anchored, and they seemed to be moving away toward the inland. At the head of them was one man, and he walked as a person who had an appointment to keep.
I ran to the crowd and fell in step with them. We followed the man toward town. As we walked, I heard people talking.
“This is the Rabbi who can raise the dead.”
“He turned water into wine, I have heard said.”
“He is a master storyteller, and his stories teach lessons.”
“He has cast demons out of men and women…”
I did not need to hear anymore, because as they spoke about demons, the teacher broke from his course toward town and began walking in a different direction.
He was walking toward the tombs.
My father had never told me I could not go back to that place. He did not have to tell me, for I would never have chosen to go back if my life depended on it. But for some reason, it seemed I had to follow this teacher back to the tombs. It seemed my life did depend on following him, whether it be the graveyard or the end of the world.
The fear of Legion had grown in my mind since my last encounter in the graveyard, but being in close proximity of the teacher seemed to put that fear on hold. I could not see the teacher because all the people crowded around him, following his every step. At this moment I realized I did not even know the man’s name.
“Who is this teacher you speak of?” I asked one of the men near me.
“Jesus,” the man replied, clear-eyed and looking forward. His gaze was intense yet, if my memory is correct, loving. That is the only way I can describe the way it looked. As if he was not worried about tomorrow, or any day after.
“His name is Jesus,” he repeated, more to himself than me.
I looked away from the man’s face and quickened my pace. As we made the half-mile trek to the jagged rocks, I was able to reach the front of the crowd.
For brief moments I could see the back of Jesus’ head, when the men who surrounded him would move to the left or the right. We entered the plain that held the stone formation my brother and I had hid behind what seemed like a lifetime ago. Jesus walked to the fig tree I had played on since before my mother died and he touched its bark. I felt a shiver go down my spine.
He began speaking to the men around him. He spoke lowly, so I could not hear what was said, but the men listened to his words eagerly. Some nodded. He touched the tree again and pulled off a leaf. Someone in front of me with better hearing said, “I think he is talking about good fruit and bad fruit.”
I was going to ask the man who said this a question, when I saw a figure walking in between the jagged rocks.
Legion was still naked, and he seemed to be shivering. His face was twisted in agony. His hair and beard were a tangled mess. In addition to dirt, blood now covered his entire body, as if he had fallen onto every rock he came across.
He walked slowly toward the teacher and called out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the God Most High?”
The crowd let out sighs of horror. He spoke in the multitude of voices.
Suddenly, Jesus called out loudly, “Unclean Spirit, come out of that man!”
Legion hurried forward, much faster than his battered body seemed capable of. He fell to Jesus’ feet and cried out, “I beg you, do not torment me.”
“What is your name?” Jesus asked. The gentleness in the teacher’s voice was captivating. I was expecting him to strike Legion as the townsmen had. I was expecting him to curse the wretched man. But instead, he asked a simple, common question.
“Legion,” he replied. “Please do not command us to depart into the abyss!” The voices cried in agony. Legion clawed the ground, as if in intense pain. He banged his tangled head into the dust. “Not the abyss. Not the abyss.”
Eventually, Legion raised his bloody head and looked toward the hillside in the distance – my place over looking the sea. His eyes were wide, and the voices called out, “Son of the God Most High, there are a herd of pigs feeding there on the hillside. We beg you let us enter these animals!”
Unlike all the spectators, Jesus seemed unfazed by the horror of the voices. All he did was make a gesture, and suddenly dark shadows rose off Legion’s back. They flew into the air, biting and clawing at each other. Shrill cries broke the air, reverberating around the crowd and down toward the tombs. Then, as quickly as they had appeared in the air, the shadows flew off toward the herd that stood on the hillside. From the crowds’ vantage point, it was unmistakable what happened next. Even from far away.
As soon as the shadows reached the heard, the pigs – in unison – rushed off the hill, falling down into the water. They committed the same act I had fantasized in my head on numerous occasions.
Legion was lying on the ground. He was calm, and Jesus was bent down onto his knees and rested the man’s head on his lap. He whispered to the man, and the crowed remained silent. Even Jesus’ men who travelled with him were silent. It was as if everyone was giving Jesus time with Legion. Either that, or the shock of what had happened had dumbstruck us all.
Eventually, Jesus motioned for one of his men and whispered in his ear. The man nodded, turned to the crowd, and announced, “Please, if you can spare, bring this man a jug of water, food, and clean clothes.”
Immediately, a handful of people left the crowd and returned within minutes with the items asked for. One woman even brought a pitcher and basin with which Jesus and his disciples washed the man and dressed him. Legion ate and drank the water, and then sat and looked up lovingly into Jesus’ face. It was as if Legion had turned into a little boy who was looking into his father’s eyes.
After this happened people from the village appeared with the pig herdsmen. They walked quickly, and I could sense the hostility in the way they moved their bodies. As they approached closer and saw Legion sitting clean and clothed at the feet of Jesus, they were clearly surprised.
Members of the crowd who had seen Jesus perform this miracle began telling the newcomers what had happened. There were loud rumblings from the people, which startled me. I expected everyone to welcome Jesus into Gerasenes with love and thankfulness, but the people grew more and more angry.
Eventually, one man approached Jesus and told him to depart, that he was not wanted in Gerasenes, or any other place nearby. Jesus only nodded and began walking away. His men followed, as did the small handful of people who had gotten the items he asked for.
I followed along, and as I broke past the angry people, Legion sprung up and ran after Jesus. When he reached the teacher, he fell back down to the ground and wept.
“Rabbi,” he cried out, “Rabbi, I beg you. Let me go with you. Let me join you on your travels. I will follow you anywhere.”
Jesus put his hand on Legion’s shoulder, and Legion immediately ceased crying. Jesus said gently, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Then he and his men turned and continued walking.
Those who had broken from the crowd came around Legion. They lifted him up, and as I approached, I saw a changed man. His boyish look of wonder had disappeared, and now his eyes shined with an intense happiness I have never seen in a man’s eyes since.
Some of the people around him fell on their knees and called out to Jesus in thankfulness. Others patted Legion on the back and danced around with joy.
Legion raised his arms in the air. He still needed a bath, and his face was badly swollen, but he did not resemble the naked madman he once was. He began proclaiming to everyone what Jesus had done for him.
I did not stay to see the people’s reactions to Legion. I ran after Jesus. As I got close, his followers took on defensive positions, as if they thought I was going to attack their teacher. Jesus turned and put his hand on the men closest to him. They slowly put down their fists, and then told the other men to do the same. I walked toward Jesus and the men parted as I approached.
Jesus was not intimidating, but at the same time the only thing I wanted to do was bow to his feet and cry.
I have never been as happy as I was that moment, standing in his presence. I fell down before him.
“Rabbi,” I said as my forehead touched the ground, “my brother Asher is in pain. Will you help him?”
I wanted to say more. I wanted to cry out all the things I had done wrong in my life. I wanted to confess disobeying my father and taking Asher with me to see Legion. I wanted to hug him, yet I did not want to overstep the power I felt reverberating through my soul. This terrible power knocked my body closer to the ground, yet it raised my spirits to heights I had never known.
I was unable to articulate more to Jesus, yet I felt he knew more than I could ever say if I had been able to manage speaking.
I cannot tell you what Jesus looked like at this moment because I could not look up. Also, tears were flooding my eyes. I can remember what he said though, and I will remember it for all eternity.
“Your faith has freed your brother, Rueben. Go in peace.”
I felt the warmth of his hand on the top of my head. He gently ran his fingers through my hair. This is when I realized I was sobbing to the point of gasping for air. The longer he ran his fingers through my hair, however, the calmer I became, until finally the tears ceased falling and my spirit was calm. I felt as if I was home, but no home I had ever known.
That is when the hand disappeared.
When I looked up, I was alone. Jesus and his men were gone. I had no idea how much time had passed.
I looked up at the horizon. The sun was setting and the sky was lit with the most beautiful pinks and purples I had ever seen.
I stood up. The weight I had felt since my first encounter with Legion was lifted. The feeling of love I had felt at Jesus’ feet was less intense now, but it was still there, and I knew it would be there for the rest of my life. It was with me the next day, when I went to war, and it is with me right now.
I am an old man, but I remember what I did after I stood up. I walked down to the sea, took off my sandals, and walked into the cold water barefoot. I felt the smooth stones under my feet as the water level rose to my chest. Then I stopped and stretched both of my arms out wide. I spread my fingers apart and arched my head back, allowing the gentle waves to lap against my chest and chin.
I felt the purity of the water, washing me. I opened my eyes and saw the sky. It was now ablaze in red, as if on fire. It reflected onto the water as I stood still and breathed slowly.
Finally, the sun dropped behind the rolling hills. I walked back to the shore, put on my sandals, and made my way home.