The Eye of the Beholder
Her eyes were closed, but she could feel the light of dawn pushing the corners of the tent. She furrowed her brow and squeezed her eyelids together. She wasn’t ready to open them yet.
She took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her…husband. One night. She had gotten him for one night, all to herself, his whole body, his whole heart. A night of no comparison, regret, or return. But once she opened her eyes, it would all be over.
For seven years, Leah had watched him. Watched him with those eyes, those eyes that defined her. She had watched him with the sheep. He was so playful with them. He loved them like children. She knew what a good father he would be.
She watched him speak with kindness to the people around him, young and old. She watched him in his kindness to her, and she loved him for it. No one had ever engaged her like he had. No one had ever taken the time to find out her mind, to ask her the things of her heart. And she loved him for it.
But he didn’t love her like she wanted him to. He didn’t watch her with delight as she watered the sheep the way he watched her sister, Rachel.
They looked so much alike they were practically twins. She was older by less than a year, and they had been raised inseparably. It was nearly impossible to tell them apart unless you looked into their eyes. They had the same dark hair, the same unblemished skin, the same laugh. They walked the same way, looked up at the sun and smiled the same way, even slept the same way–on their side with their knees drawn up toward their chest and one arm under their head for support.
But Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance, the one with steady eyes that could give and receive a pure and unadulterated gaze. When Jacob looked at Rachel, she looked back at him and gave him her whole self through two eyes, two wonderfully focused and perfectly synchronized eyes.
Leah lay there in the early morning and squeezed her eyes tightly together. She could hear the words of her mother echoing in her head. “You’re not trying hard enough, Leah. Look at me with all you are.”
“I am, Mama!” she responded as she struggled to bring her eyes into unison. Her left eye was steady and true, but her right eye was disobedient and impossible to control.
“Tender eyes,” her mother called them. “An attitude like yours and God gave you tender eyes.”
Leah knew that if her eyes would only cooperate–work together!–she would be impossibly beautiful. She had heard the chatter of the servants, and she knew they were right. To compensate, she had developed the practice of looking away when she spoke to someone. It prevented them from having to concentrate on which eye to look at when they talked with her.
She had also developed a wonderful sense of comedic timing. She and Rachel would stay up late with the other girls in their tent, giggling and telling stories, but the best were the stories that Leah could tell. She had a gift for seeing into your soul even if she never looked directly into your eyes. Rachel was a nice girl, beautiful and kind, but she could be self-absorbed like any pretty girl is tempted to be. Leah could feel when you were sad or lonely, and she would bring you a bouquet of spring flowers or sing you the perfect song, just what you needed to cheer you up.
Too bad about those eyes, you would find yourself thinking. She could have been such a catch!
When Jacob arrived and saw Rachel at the well, it was love at first sight. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, you know. Her beauty was truly inspiring. Their father Laban leveraged it to his advantage. It was just the way he did things, scheming, scheming, always scheming, looking for the edge. Rachel had been engaged before, the seal on a deal that Laban worked out with the young man’s father. But a few days before the wedding, Laban had pushed too hard for an extra tenth on top of her dowry, and her fiance’s father called the whole thing off. Laban didn’t return the whole dowry, only part of it, so he considered the deal a success, even if two hearts were broken in the process.
Rachel was Laban’s asset, Leah his liability. How was Laban going to unload her from his list of responsibilities? It wasn’t that he minded her–she kept him laughing–but she and her retinue of servants were a slow drain on his profits. Rachel he could marry off no problem (he reminded himself not to be so ambitious the next time), but Leah was a challenge.
When Jacob arrived on the scene, Laban watched him. As he watched him for seven years, a plan slowly grew in his mind. Laban saw his tenderness toward Rachel and the love she inspired in him. He saw how kind Jacob was to Leah and how shrewd he was to any other person he met. Laban knew exactly what he needed to do.
Leah had looked off in the distance when Laban told her his plan. They walked side by side in the field near the family’s tents. Laban knew Leah would cooperate; no man had ever been as kind to her as Jacob, especially not Laban. But Laban didn’t see the concurrent delight and pain that this plan caused Leah. Nor did he actually care. Women were goods to be traded, employed, and enjoyed. It was a wonderful plan. Caught up in the excitement of his schemes, he wheeled Leah around and took her by the shoulders.
“You’re going to be married, Leah!” he said, searching out her gaze for the first time in years. It was uncomfortable, but he forced himself to do it. He had not expected the tears that he found. He wrote them off as tears of relief.
“Yes, Papa,” she mustered.
Her father continued on to check his flocks and Leah slowly walked back to the settlement. There were not many trees in the area that caught her eye, but she passed the one that made her smile. It was twisted into a strange form–almost like an aged hand. She liked to think of it as the earth offering up its hand for a bird to perch on.
Her eyes were downcast as she neared the tree, but as she approached, she noticed a white bird in its warped branches. It was a dove, and it was looking at her.
She had encountered doves before. They could be skittish creatures. This one, however, made no movement as she moved closer to it. It gazed at her boldly, almost as if it were daring her to come even closer. She accepted the challenge.
They were nearly nose to beak, less than a foot between them, and this dove looked into Leah’s eyes. It looked into her eyes with no hesitation, no confusion, and–most amazingly of all–no judgment. Her heart could not handle the fullness of its gaze. She inhaled suddenly, and then she ran away as fast as she could.
Back in her tent alone, sobs shook Leah’s body. How she loved Jacob! How she had longed for this moment! She was to be his. She hated to deceive him, but she knew there was no other way; it was out of her hands. She would have him to herself for a night, one night. One night when he would hold her and love her and speak tenderly to her, as she had always longed for him to do. One night.
All these memories flooded her as she lay there in the dawnlight, Jacob stroking her hair, her eyes firmly shut. Jacob drifted off to sleep again. She had a few more precious moments with her beloved. But she would not risk it to watch him sleep. Once he looked into her eyes, it would all be over.
“Rachel,” he said, touching her cheek. She smiled a sad smile, a smile filled with pain and longing, and she opened her eyes. “Leah,” she said.
It happened just as she thought. Her heart was ripped into shreds.
The rest of the week was misery. He couldn’t look at her fully the way he once had, in friendship. The one her soul loved would not look at her. She spent her wedding week alone. Her eyes were weak with tears and she didn’t know if she would ever recover. If it was possible to truly live again, she knew it would take years. Years.
She was desperate for children to fill the void inside her heart. Three sons later and the pain had abated but a little. Her fourth child came, and it was a complicated delivery. When she thought she might lose the child, fear gripped her heart and she thought she heard the sounds of loss, like she did that One Night years before. She gasped when she heard the baby cry, and the midwife finally laid the little baby, squirming and crying, on her. A boy. She nursed him, and when he finally quieted, she looked down, expecting to see him asleep at her chest. But his eyes were open. She looked down at him, and he looked up at her. Their eyes met. Their hearts met. His infant eye wandered a little. And suddenly, she was at peace.
“Now I will praise the Lord,” she whispered. And she called him Judah.
Amanda Martinez Beck is a storyteller and fat activist on a mission to help people embrace the goodness of their bodies. She is the co-founder of the Ruah Storytellers Podcast. In addition to cohosting the Fat & Faithful Podcast, she is the author of Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me. Follow her on Instagram(@your_body_is_good) and visit her website to learn more about the Good Body Initiative.