Old Josh was a preacher here in Zen. Though he must not have been a very good one, since not many folks went to his church, or so people said. That was just as well with Old Josh. He preferred to spend his days sitting at spot where the road out of town ended, just before it crossed a bridge. A gnarled and good oak tree stood there, watching passersby cross the bridge to and from town. And Old Josh often sat in the shade, joining the tree in its people watching.
Just down from the tree, sloping toward the river was a patch of lilies. Wild, I suppose. And when Josh had no people to watch, he considered the lilies of the field. Birds perched atop the old iron bridge, sometimes leaving their roosts to swoop and soar around the tree, or over the river, or even down among the lilies.
Old Josh would sit and watch. That's where he planned out most of sermons, sitting, thinking, watching lilies and birds and travelers and such.
Sometimes, the few folk from his congregation would join him, a person or two at a time.
So there they sat one day, Old Josh and a thoughtful deacon, when a man from town -- dignified, well-respected, over-groomed and all -- passed by. He stopped, peered at Old Josh in the shadows of the tree, and walked over to him.
With a gravely honk, he spit into Old Josh's face. Big and wet, the spit globbed down his cheek.
Old Josh wiped the spit slowly from his face with the back of his sleeve. "Well," he questioned. "What else do you have to say?"
The spitter was stunned. He'd spit in people's face before. Some people had flailed at him in anger, with words and fists. Others grinned and giggled, swapping back slaps of embarrassment as if trying to sweet talk or bribe their way out of a 'case of mistaken identity.' But Old Josh was neither angry nor embarrassed. He just said, "Well, what else do you have to say?"
The buttoned-up man hurried on his intended way.
Old Josh's parishioner blinked three times, then let loose a cock-crow of curses and cries. "That can't happen... Why, that man, he... You shouldn't let him..."
With no malice in his tone, Old Josh interrupted, "Oh, just hush up now. No doubt he heard something about me. Maybe he heard I want to integrate our churches. Maybe somebody told him that an adulterer sings lead soprano in our choir. Maybe somebody told him I stood before and pronounced two people unasunderable, when the state tries to keep them asunder. Maybe he has a sense that I have a 'reputation.' "
"Really," old Josh continued, "He just spit on what he thinks he knows."
The day dozed on, Old Josh sitting under a tree. His parishioner went home to ponder.
The spitting man, waltzed on his merry way, but feeling not so merry and finding the rhythm of the day less waltzable as the sun faded. He itched under the collar of his well-tailored shirt well into the evening hours. The crickets chirping outside his home seemed to be saying something he couldn't decipher. His mouth was dry, and a dozen trips to the sink failed to quench his thirst.
"Heavens, above, Harry," his wife finally said. "Go for walk. You're nervous as an alley cat. Business deals gone sour today? Forget to foreclose on somebody? Afraid you won't get re-elected President of the Zen Chapter of the John Birch Society? What's gotten into you? Go outside. Take a walk. Leave me be."
And so the man walked. Out his front door, down the steps, through the yard, to the sidewalk. And he followed it, past his business, by the courthouse where he had won many a case and made many an enemy, out the other side of town, walking along the road to the river.
He reached the tree.
In the inky night, he saw Old Josh.
Like the waves he had seen at Panama City Beach last summer, he hurled himself onto the ground, rolling, crashing right into Old Josh's feet. Silently, he lay there, curled up, a dust covered tie too tight around his thick neck.
"Forgive me," he whispered, scratchy, dry, spitless. Old Josh said nothing. "Forgive me," the spitter yelped, louder. "I said, forgive me, please, just..."
"Oh, just hush up now. Hush. And listen to the river."
In the dark night, the river, slapped and gurgled along.
"Hear it flowing," Old Josh asked. "Always flowing, never the same river. Like you, like me. We're all rivers. The man you spit on? He's not here anymore. I may look like him, but I'm not the same because a half-day's living has happened since you were here. So I can't forgive you because I have no grudge against you."
"And you," Old Josh said, leaning down to look at the man in dirt, "Six hours of life has come and gone for you. Six hours a ago, a man came and spit on my face. A few seconds ago, a man came rolling in the dirt at my feet. You are not the same man. So, let's forget about it. The man who spit and the man on whom he spit? They're not here anymore. Sit up. Let's talk about something else. Or better yet? Let's listen to the lilies. I think they're singing lullabies to the birds."