As Raphael appeared, the waters were dark — still sleeping against a night sky. The people were sleeping too: some slumped in the doorways, others stretched out on the stones, one — more peaceful– trailing her hand in the waters and dreaming dreams.
‘Who will it be today, Ramiel?’ Raphael asked, already sure of the answer. Ramiel turned from his drawings, and waved his wing towards the girl. ‘She is ready: look.’
Raphael came to see the sketch pad. A girl, standing tall in the market square. A girl, radiant and laughing with her friends. All around them were rainbows — ribbons of light that seemed to dance on the wind. Raphael leaned in and strained his eyes against the dark.
‘Oh, Ramiel. You have done well.’
The ribbons were formed by words of friendship, words of kindness, the language of joy and hope and connection. And there, in tatters at her feet, were the words she had set down. Words of cruelty of wounding. Words that silenced her and drove her to Bethsaida: mute, afraid, alone.
The first rays of light were reaching the pool, and it was almost time for Raphael to stir the waters. But as the shadows lifted, he knew he was being watched.
‘What about him?’ Raphael asked, nodding to the old man who was staring at him. He didn’t like being watched. Mostly he was invisible. But at some point over the 38 years, the man had learned to see, and had been scowling at him ever since.
‘Still, no.’ Ramiel said sadly. ‘He won’t sleep. He won’t dream. When he does doze off, he blocks me as soon as I lift my pen: restless and angry. It gets harder every year.’
Raphael sighed and dropped his head. He would like to help the man — but not today.
Instead, he turned to the girl. ‘So be it. She is ready: it will be her turn.’
Raphael stepped down into the pool as the last of the sleepers woke. Some of the companions sensed him, and began hurrying their loved ones to the water’s edge. The girl sat up: wide eyed and expectant. The old man did nothing but glower, defying the rest to be healed.
As Raphael stepped into the water, the light changed. He rose his wings, and a thousand golden feathers reflected on the pool. The waters danced as he trailed his wing and turned: stirring the waters, stirring their dreams.
The girl barely needed to move to be in the pool, but as she saw him she rose. She walked deliberately into the waters, holding the angel’s eyes. At once she was surrounded with light and transformed by it. She waded out to meet him and let her head slip down beneath the water’s surface. As she rose, he took her hand, brushed the water from her face, and sheltered her in his wings.
‘Thank you.’ she said. ‘Thank you,’ as tears and laughter mingled.
Raphael released her and set her free. ‘Go in peace. When you need me, I will be with you.’ The girl nodded, and walked form the pool. All eyes were on her, and those who could ran to touch her. A healing. Hope for them all.
Except for one. Raphael saw the old man shift and turn away from the girl.
Raphael felt his own emotions stir — not compassion, exactly. Frustration? Anger? Nothing he liked, certainly. He fought it, and began walking to the man. There was nothing to stop him. He could stir the waters again if he wished. He sent out a beacon of gold, and begged the man: ‘Look, I can help you. Please, won’t you come?’
The man set himself in stubbornness and turned his face to the stones.
And then, suddenly: Jesus was there. He had come as the girl rose from the water. He had stood and shared her joy. But now, his face had changed. He waked swiftly to the man and forced his attention.
Jesus’ voice rose: ‘Do you want to be well?’
It was not harsh, exactly — but it was close. Raphael was bewildered. Here was this man, who had suffered for so many years, and Jesus was…
The man looked up, too shocked not to respond. ‘There is no one to help me. Someone always gets there first.’
It was true: he had no one. And once — a terrible day — he had tried to get to the pool, and someone pushed past and threw him to the ground. Raphael had snapped his wings shut, and no one was healed that day. But was that what this was about, all those years ago? Was he still harbouring blame?
Jesus stood firm against the man’s excuses. He looked at him without judgement, but without collusion.
‘Stand up. Take your mat, and walk.’
It was a command. And the man heard it as such. But he knew too that he must choose.
He hesitated only a second, and then got to his feet. He walked — stumbled — towards the pool, and washed his face. Then, he rose quickly, took his mat, and left.
Raphael stood, open mouthed, in the middle of the pool
‘Confrontation?’ he asked Jesus, utterly bewildered.
‘Sometimes.’ Jesus said calmly. ‘Sometimes, it is necessary.’