Continued from Part I.
Man and Woman were walking by a range of hills. Suddenly, a gleam of light caught Woman’s eye. She glanced up, and saw a beautiful blue sparkle high up on the side of a cliff. “Oh my,” she said, “how lovely! I wonder what that is?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Man ran over and started climbing. Woman held her breath as his fingers and toes sought out tiny ledges to hold onto, and gasped once when he almost fell. But before she knew it, he had retrieved his prize and was kneeling before her, holding up a nearly transparent rock that glittered with all the colors of the sun.
That night by the fire, while she was admiring her gift, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “You were so brave, today. I bet you aren’t scared to do anything!”
Man stiffened. Without a word, he got up and walked away into the darkness.
Woman took a long time to go to sleep. She was lonely, sad, confused, and cold. Why had Man gone? They had never been apart at night before. Had she done something to hurt him? All she had done was compliment him. He usually loved that!
When she woke up: Man was there! She wanted to run over and hug him. She also wanted to yell and scream at him for leaving her.
But she did neither of these things. She just stared at him. He had an expression on his face she’d never seen before. Parts of it she recognized. Sadness. Fear. Determination. But there was something else there, something she didn’t have a Word for yet.
“I’m sorry I left you,” he said.
“I forgive you,” she said. Even though they lived in paradise, they still sometimes did things that hurt or confused each other, so The One had taught them the Words ‘sorry’ and ‘forgive.’
“Why… why did you leave?” she asked carefully, afraid of scaring him away again.
“I have a… let us call it a Burden,” he said, with a ghost of the proud half-smile he has when he invents a new Word.
She smiled shyly back him. “What is a Burden?” She knew he loved to explain things to her, especially things he had just made up.
“A Burden is a kind of Thing-I-Carry,” he said seriously — he was always very serious about Words, even Words about silly things. “Except a Burden is very heavy. Not too heavy to lift, but too heavy to carry all the time.”
“So… why don’t you put it down?” she asked. That was what she always did when she was carrying something too heavy. Sometimes Man got so caught up in making up fancy Words for things he forgot about the thing itself.
He smiled and shook his head, as if he knew what she was thinking. “This Burden is not a Thing-I-Carry with my hands. It is a Thing-I-Carry with my heart. And I was told to carry it by The One.”
Woman frowned. That did not make sense. The One was very kind. One would not give Man a Burden he could not carry. Perhaps the Man had misunderstood.
“Did the One call it a Burden?” she asked.
Man looked surprised. “No, now that you mention it, he did not. He called it a Rule.”
Women tried to remember if she’d heard that Word before. Then her face lit up. “Oh, like when we made our bed! You found a stick that was as tall as we were, and you called it a Rule. We used it to measure the branches and leaves we used. Like that?” she asked eagerly.
He nodded. She frowned. “But why would a measuring stick be a Burden? I’ve seen you carry sticks much bigger than that!”
He paused and stared at the ground.
Woman blushed. “Sorry, I forgot. This is a stick you have to carry with your heart.” A thought came to her and she looked at him. “Oh. This is the Rule that The One is using to measure your heart. And you are afraid your heart isn’t big enough.”
Man stared up at her, stricken, a wild look on his face. For a moment Woman was terrified he was going to run away again.
Instead, he began to cry.
This immediately made Woman feel better. Crying was something she understood. She went over and held him in her arms until he cried himself out. When he finished, she waited until he was ready to speak.
He stood up. “Come with me,” said Man. “I have something to show you.”
They walked over to a small but lush tree right in the middle of the garden. Woman had walked past it many times, but suddenly it occurred to her that she had never seen Man anywhere near it. She saw Man staring at it with a peculiar kind of hunger, and a shiver ran down her back.
“I was nothing before The One made me a Man,” he began, in a low voice she barely recognized. “One gave me everything, taught me everything. I could do whatever I wanted. I was happy, but I was incomplete.”
He smiled at her. Her face warmed, as she thought she knew where this story was going. Then she noticed the coldness in his eyes.
He nodded as he saw her eyes mirror the sadness in his. He took a deep breath. “I never told you the whole story of the day we met. Before One brought you to me, One brought me here. One showed me this tree. One told me I would soon have everything I desire. But in order to keep it, I must accept one Rule: I must never eat from this tree. One called it the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
Woman looked at Man, puzzled. “What are ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’?” she asked.
Man grimaced. “I don’t know. And that’s the Burden.”
He sat down, deep in thought. She came over and cuddled beside him.
“Of course I agreed to the Rule,” he said, a faraway look in his eyes. “It wasn’t a Burden back then. There was too much to do. Especially after I met you,” he grinned at her, a trace of his old warmth returning. She smiled back.
Then the cloud returned to Man’s face. “I had almost forgotten about the Rule, until yesterday when I climbed the mountain to get that shiny rock for you. You were so happy. I was so proud. I felt I could do anything for you.”
Understanding pierced Woman like a splinter through her heart. “And when I said that, you remembered the Rule.”
Man nodded. “I realized there was finally something I wanted more than honoring the One. I would do anything to make you proud of me.” He drew away to look at her, a question in his eyes.
She took a deep breath. “I understand. Before your heart had always been just one thing. Now it felt like two. And whenever there are two, they sometimes disagree.”
“Exactly,” said Man, surprised by her insight. “For the first time in my life, I felt something inside me that did not like the Rule. I was terrified. That was why I ran away from you. I no longer knew myself. I had to find a Word to describe what I was feeling.”
“I am sorry,” he said again. “It must have been very lonely and confusing for you, to have to spend the night all by yourself without knowing where I was or why I left. Are you sure you have forgiven me?”
“Of course I –” she started to say, then froze in mid-sentence. Something rose up inside her. Anger, that was the Word; like Cat when you stepped on its tail. Anger that Man had not told her about the Rule before. Anger that Man had turned to his precious Words instead of to her for comfort. Anger at being left alone.
She started to stand up, shaking from the unaccustomed depth of emotion. Why was Man being the opposite of kind? Why did the One make him that way? Why did there have to be Rules and Burdens when everything was already perfect? Why did Man obsesses so much over his silly Thing-I-Carry? Why did it always have to be about him? Why couldn’t it be about us?
And then it struck her. So hard she collapsed on the ground in a heap.
Man rushed over, his face a mess of conflicting emotions: wanting to be near her, afraid to touch her.
Woman looked up at Man, and the smile through her tears was like the sun shining on a waterfall. She spoke, softly but clearly:
“Heart of my heart, you were mistaken. A Burden is not a type of Thing-I-Carry. It is a Thing-We-Carry. That is why One gave you that Rule.”
Man stared at her, his face looking like the time he had run head first into a low tree branch.
She giggled. Man could be so silly sometimes. Especially when he was taking himself too seriously.
“Do you not see? Of course the Rule was too heavy for you to carry. That was the whole point! The One made you strong so you get to carry things for me with your hands. The Rule showed you where you were weak, so I get to carry things for you with my heart.”
Man sat down with a thump, his face filled with wonder and a frightened sort of hope.
“But,” he said, frowning. “If you are also carrying the Rule, doesn’t that mean I have to carry you with my heart?”
Woman sighed. Why was Man so skilled at seeing clever things, but so bad at seeing simple things? I hope his sons don’t take after him that way, she thought. Then again, maybe that would help them remember why they need her daughters.
“The One gave you that Rule, my love,” she replied. “I can not bear that for you. My Rule is to bear you in my heart. And that is not a Burden. It is my Joy!”
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”Galatians 6:2