23: More Blessed Are They

February 21, 2010 · 4 comments

in 2010 Book of Mormon

Marih pounded the mallet rhythmically against the sides of the stone basin. With each strike, the pile of grain inside shrunk in size and bulk. Marih watched as the heavy stone mallet she wielded changed each kernel to nothing but chaff and dust.

Although the day was hot, it was cool in the shaded storage lean-to at the side of Marih’s family hut. The thick walls of woven grasses that made the cooking area inside oppressive in the heat didn’t exist in the lean-to. Marih was glad that Mother had sent her outside to work. She needed time to think and some space from the women’s gossip that was guaranteed to coat the kitchen on cooking day.

Normally Marih loved to hear the grown women, her mother’s friends, talk on cooking day. It was interesting to hear them talk of their families and their work. Marih had learned so much from their talk that she wondered if her mother had volunteered to provide the gathering place on cooking day for Marih’s benefit. From the women’s talk, she knew just the right day to plant sweet herbs. She knew how many stones to circle in a fire ring for the best luck. From the women’s talk, she knew how to bathe a newborn baby and how much was too much for a father to ask in a betrothal settlement. Marih had learned all these things on cooking days, things that without older or younger siblings and no grandmothers she may have never learned.

Once Marih asked her mother why she didn’t have a brother or sister. Mother’s look grew sad, as sad as the day when Marih was very little when her father buried her last grandmother, and then Mother said, “It was not the will of God.” The tears in her mother’s eyes made Marih promise herself never to ask that question again.

But it had been months since Marih had enjoyed the cooking day gossip. The change came suddenly as the topic of the women’s conversation had all at once shifted from the usual complaints and suggestions about husbands and children to a new theme: what had happened when He came, what He had said, and when He would come again. And over and over again, as Marih listened from the storage lean-to, from the garden, or while hovering in the yard she asked herself the same questions: How had she missed Him? Why hadn’t He come to her?

Marih pounded the mallet on the side of the basin to shake off the clinging particles. She used a gourd to scoop the flour into the meal bag. Mother would be expecting the ground meal any moment to help cook their portion of the meal cakes for the week, but instead of carrying the sack to the cooking area inside, Marih searched around for something to keep her outside of the hot hut and away from the voices she was trying to ignore.

“That boy is just stronger and stronger every day,” Nihma, a woman about Marih’s mother’s age said. “I never thought I’d ever see my son work the fields alongside his father, but off he goes each morning. He still comes home early in the afternoon, but he could do that his whole life and I’d never complain.”

“It was your son, then, the one that was once crippled?” Gilan, a younger woman asked.

“Yes,” Nihma replied. Marih could almost hear her broad smile as she spoke. “That boy’s legs were crooked from the minute he was born. The midwife said that he wouldn’t last a week, but he did just the same, and he made it all the way to sixteen. Now he’s a strong, healthy, normal boy for the first time, thanks to the Master.”

“I’ll never forget it, as long as I live,” said Ama, an elderly woman who had been coming to cooking day for a long time. “‘My bowels are filled with compassion towards you,’ He said. ‘Bring them hither and I will heal them,’ and He did!”

The kitchen fell into a silent hush. Marih looked off into the distance towards Bountiful, where He had come, where all these miracles had happened. She loved to listen to the stories and wished herself far away every time they talked about Him, all at the same time. She believed what had happened. She believed that He had really come, just as the prophets and said for hundreds of years, but she wondered why He hadn’t come to her. Why had she been missed?

“Kallai,” Nihma, the mother of the crippled boy, called to Marih’s mother. The sound made Marih start and she heard the women in the kitchen set to work again. “Where is that girl of yours? I’m ready to add the meal.”

“She has been a while,” Marih heard her mother say. “Marih?” she called.

Marih scrambled around, trying to remember what she was doing, grabbed the sack of grain, and started for the open door.

“Thank you, dear, was it harder than normal?” her mother asked as Marih placed the flour on a table.

“No, I—” Marih looked into her mother’s face. Her eyes searched Marih’s, but she spared Marih from needing an excuse.

“Would you like to help here?” Mother asked.

Marih looked down. She was glad the other women were too busy with their own tasks to notice her hesitancy.

“Why don’t you bring your father his lunch?” Mother suggested instead.

Marih smiled briefly and nodded. The lunch basket sat in the corner. She took it and left the hut. As she moved away from the cooking women, she heard just a few last snatches of their conversation: “Hunger and thirst after righteousness,” they said. “The salt of the earth.”

Marih sighed and kicked at the dust in the road. She wanted to be happy. She wanted to rejoice with everyone else about what had happened. She wanted to be changed too.

Everyone was changed. All everyone talked about was Him and what He said. Marih loved that. She felt good about everything He said. She never wanted to stop listening, until she remembered how He hadn’t come to her.

“I was tending you inside the hut,” Marih’s mother had explained. “Your father had just finished healing from the nasty gash on his head from the earthquake when you fell ill with fever. It had been two days since you had opened your eyes, and we were so worried.

“Your sleep was so fitful, and I couldn’t keep dry sheets beneath you, you were sweating through them so fast. I was praying by your bedside that God would spare you when I heard a soft whisper answering me.”

“What was it?” Marih asked.

“I didn’t know,” her mother said. “I opened my eyes and looked around for your father, but it was his first day back in the fields. Then the voice came again. I went outside, and saw all of the others staring around too. They were pointing towards Bountiful, towards the temple, and we all started heading there.

“I can’t believe I left you like that,” Marih’s mother continued. “I don’t know what came over me. I guess somehow I knew that everything would be all right, and I knew I had to get to the temple.”

“What was it like?” Marih had asked at least a hundred times. “When you got to the temple and saw Him—what was He like?”

“It was—” Marih’s mother paused each time she answered this question, searching for the right word, “it was wonderful.” Her mother sighed. Marih had heard the story of seeing Him, of touching Him, so many times before. “Then when I came back to you,” her mother finished, “the fever was gone.”

As Marih continued along the road towards the fields, she felt that familiar sting in her eyes as she remembered her mother’s words: “It was wonderful.”

Marih clutched the lunch basket tighter and tried to focus on something else, anything else, but everything reminded her how she had been left behind, how He must not have cared. She passed dozens of people whose kind acts and shining faces showed how much He had changed them—former misers who were now full of generosity, previously bickering couples serving each other, and the once forlorn elderly now full of hope. They talked of “treasures in heaven,” forgiveness, and faith.

Then there were the children. The children she passed on the way to the fields waved and said hello to her. Marih tried to give them smiles in return, but it was hard to think that they had all been there, all but her. He had prayed for them, blessed them, and wept over them, all but her.

“What was it like?” she asked that same question to her friend Amar when he visited as she was recovering from the fever. “The fire, and the angels?”

Amar looked at the wall beyond Marih’s bedside for a long moment before he spoke. “It didn’t feel like fire,” he said, “not like the fire we can make. It felt more like glowing. And the angels, they were people. Looking into their faces, it was like they knew me although I had never seen them before. And everything about them shone with light.”

Marih was approaching the fields. She shielded her eyes from the high sun and scanned the working shapes to find her father. He was sitting in the shade of the tree with several other men who were waiting for their lunches.

“Looks like your lucky day, Shemnon” one of the men said to Marih’s father as she approached.

“Come, Lenhi,” Marih’s father laughed, “it looks like your girl is on her way as well. Remember, life is ‘more than meat, and the body than raiment.’”

It sounded like some sort of joke, but the men didn’t laugh. They smiled knowingly and nodded their heads. They knew her father was quoting Him.

“And how is cooking day?” her father asked.

“Fine,” Marih answered.

“We’ve seen Shimik, Nihma’s son, working the fields in the morning,” one man said. “She must be very grateful.”

“She is,” Marih agreed, “she mentions it all the time.”

The men nodded. Marih could see the remembrance in their eyes. They knew what it was like.

Marih took her time going home from the fields. She wanted to wait until cooking day was over, and she wanted to keep to her own thoughts for a while. When she reached the hut again, the other women had gone home to start their suppers and make things ready before the sun went down. Mother sat by the window weaving.

“How were the fields today?” she asked Marih.

“The men said the land was healing, that maybe the earthquake would make the farms more fruitful.”

Marih’s mother smiled. Marih could tell that she believed that it was true—that the land was healed and that even the earthquakes turned into a blessing.

When Marih looked back, her mother’s smile had faded. “Marih,” she asked, “what’s wrong? You’re stronger than ever now, but you’re still not yourself.”

Marih sat on a stool at her mother’s side and started re-rolling a bundle of yarn. “You already know, Mother,” she said. “I am trying to have faith. I am grateful that my fever was healed when He came, but I still don’t understand why I couldn’t be there.”

Her mother sighed. “If I would have known what this would mean to you, I would have done anything to bring you back,” she said again. “When we came back that night and you were sleeping peacefully, we were so grateful that we forgot about everything else. The next day, your father returned to the temple, but you were still so weak that I stayed here with you.”

Marih twisted the soft yarn in her hands. “I know, Mother. You did right. I just still wish I could have seen Him.”

Later that night, after their evening meal and reading of the scriptures, Marih’s father called her to his side.

“You are much too troubled, daughter,” he said.

Marih looked up at him. She didn’t have to explain to him once again. As a quiet tear rolled down her cheek, he scooped her up, big as she was at thirteen, and held her close.

“Tomorrow, Marih,” he said, “I want to take you to Nephi.”

Marih looked into his face. “The prophet?” she asked.

“Yes. Nephi was chosen by the Lord himself. I know you feel like He forgot you, dearest, but I think talking to Nephi will help.”

Her father fulfilled his promise the next day. Instead of leaving for the fields in the morning with the other men, he washed and dressed and started on the several mile journey with her to the temple.

“Why would the prophet want to see me?” Marih asked. “Isn’t he too busy?”

“I’ve told him about you,” her father said.

“You have?” Marih was surprised.

Her father smiled. “Marih,” he said. “Remember how before the earthquakes a lot of people in the village were angry?”

Marih shuddered. She didn’t like to think about things before the earthquakes. Times were hard then.

“But He said,” her father continued, “‘There shall be no disputations among you.’”

“‘He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me,’” Marih finished for him.

“Exactly,” Marih’s father smiled.

“But what does that have to do with Nephi? Others have changed, but he’s always been good.”

“Why have they changed, Marih?”

Marih thought. She knew that the words of Jesus made her feel kind and like doing good. “Because He taught them how?” she asked.

“Yes,” her father agreed. “He taught them how, and He taught them to be like Him: ‘I would that ye should be perfect, even as I.’”

Marih’s brow wrinkled. She still didn’t quite understand what Father was saying.

“Jesus changed us because He taught us to be like Him,” her father said.

“But how will seeing Nephi help me?” Marih asked.

“Because Nephi, just like everybody else, has become more like Him.”

The prophet lived in a hut not far from the temple. Although it was usually a quiet, peaceful place, the temple grounds that day were busy and full of workman who were volunteering their day to repair some of the damage from the earthquakes.

Marih’s father led her to the back door of the hut. “His work desk is on this side,” her father explained as he knocked on the thin door.

“Come in,” Nephi’s voice called.

Marih had seen Nephi before, but not since the Savior had come. He was not an old man, only a few years older than her father, but since she had seen him last he looked wiser somehow. He was sitting at a desk covered in scrolls and writings.

“Shemnon,” Nephi smiled a greeting. “I thought you would come sometime soon.”

“You know about me?” Marih couldn’t help asking in surprise.

“Of course I do. Your father is my friend, and you are his family. I hear all about you.”

Marih felt more at ease than she thought she would. Although Nephi was a prophet, he was very easy to talk to. He pushed the papers he was writing aside and motioned for Marih to come nearer.

“You worry too much for a child,” Nephi said not unkindly.

Marih wanted to say she was thirteen, and not quite a child still, but she felt so silly and small to bring her questions to the prophet that instead she asked, “Why me, Nephi? Why didn’t I see Him?”

Nephi searched her face. He didn’t hurry to answer. “Do you remember the earthquakes?”

“Of course!” Marih exclaimed. It was days and days of destruction and darkness. Marih thought she would never see the sun again.

“Your father was injured,” Nephi pointed to the scar on her father’s forehead, “but others people died.”

Marih had tried to forget how many, but lots of her friends had loved ones who were now gone.

“Why?” Nephi asked.

Marih looked up in surprise. Why was the prophet asking her a question? “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Why did those people die, while others were healed when the Master came?”

Marih shook her head. She had never thought of this before, and she didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know either, Marih,” Nephi said, “and I’m glad.”

“You’re glad that some people died?” Marih was confused.

“No,” Nephi said seriously, “I’m glad that I don’t know why.”

Marih nodded. She realized she was glad too. It would be too complex to know—so many reasons why or why not.

“Do you think that’s the same with me?” she asked. “You don’t know why, and you’re glad?”

Nephi nodded. “But I am also glad that He knows all. He even knows you.”

Marih looked into Nephi’s eyes. She saw truth there and knew that what the prophet said was true. Jesus even knew her.

“You’ve heard a lot of what He taught?” Nephi asked her.

“Yes, very much,” Marih replied.

Nephi smiled. “Your father has told me, and I can tell, that you truly love the Word, child.”

Marih nodded again.

“Do you know what He said about you?” Nephi asked.

“About me?” Marih couldn’t imagine anything the Master could have said about her.

“Yes, you,” Nephi said. “There were special things that Jesus taught, some things that He taught only to us twelve, to me and your father and the others.”

Marih leaned forward, giving Nephi her full attention. She didn’t know this. She thought everyone who was there had heard everything.

“I am writing many of those things now,” Nephi gestured to the scrolls on his writing table, “so that the people will have them as well, but there are some things I think you should know now, Marih. He said, ‘Blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.’”

Marih looked down. How could she be baptized if she hadn’t seen Him?

Nephi continued quoting, “‘And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.’”

Marih’s heart thrilled. Was it true? Was there a place for her to believe, even though she had not seen? She looked up into Nephi’s loving eyes and felt that what her father had said was right—knowing Nephi or anyone else who had been changed was like knowing Him. Nephi was telling her that she could be changed too.

“Marih,” Nephi asked, “do you have faith in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that through His Atonement you can be cleansed from your sins, and do you have a desire to be baptized in His name?”

“Yes,” Marih said, still looking at Nephi, and she meant it with all her heart.

Nephi smiled at her father. “We haven’t had many children baptized yet, but Marih is over the age of eight, and she will be the first of many. I will call to Amos to make sure the dam in the river is in place.”

Marih’s father beamed down at her, but left to her own thoughts. Marih felt warmth and love inside unlike anything she had ever felt before. Being baptized, being called one of the members of the Church of Christ, was what she wanted more than anything. She was happier than she had ever been before; she was already beginning to feel a change.

Nephi had just barely left the hut, but came back again. “Marih?” he asked again. “Have you forgotten about the fire?”

Marih looked up. “You mean the angels?”

Nephi nodded.

Marih didn’t know what to say. She thought about how she was feeling now, and she didn’t feel the sadness about anything anymore.

Nephi continued before she had to respond, “He also said, ‘For they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost.’”

Marih’s smiled broadened. She felt a pricking of tears in her eyes, but tears that went with the swelling of happiness in her heart instead of the sadness that she’d been keeping for so long. “For they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost,” she thought. And she was.

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{ 4 comments }

Tamara Hart Heiner February 22, 2010 at 12:02 pm

This is beautifully done. Real emotion and powerful imagery. Without directly stating when it is, we are able to draw correct conclusion based on dialogue and thought.

Michaela Stephens February 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I love how this shows how people were changed and how Christ's teachings had permeated all of life. That was very well done.

Krista February 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Very interesting point of view and a valuable lesson. I thought at first the main character seemed ungrateful and whiny, but she grew out of it and by the end, I liked her and the emotion of the story. Original.

Emily M. February 27, 2010 at 10:55 pm

I just love this one. I love the strong, tight point of view. You have a great way of expressing Marih's struggle without seeming cheesy or trite, which could happen easily with such a tender subject.

Um, I can't think of anything I would change about it. Maybe the section at the beginning with the womens' meetings could be tightened. I'm sure if I combed through it something else might come up, but overall, IMO it's excellent.

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