Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, so said the master. I kept mine. I had a few rocks that I wanted to cast. But I held back. I didn't want to be the first. Neither the last. I didn't want to make a scene. I was drowned out by the crowd and I saw many clenched fists.
Everyone was at first eager to cast their stone. But they too held back. Like me, I guess the ugliness they saw before them was the same ugliness, if not more so, in them. Their rage was disrupted. They hesitated. They pondered. And then, one of them left.
Everyone could see him leaving. Everyone knew him. He was the oldest among them. Their clenched fists loosened its grip. Their countenance fell. They began to waver. The old man must have seen it all. He must have caught something reflected back at him. He had lived long enough to know what it was. His experience was his indictment. His old friends of the past were returning, unbidden.
He felt that familiar anger consuming him before. He felt that craving for attention he thought he'd recently denounced. Most of all, just when he thought his action was justified, defensible, even authentic, he felt that sharp prick of hypocrisy and pride from the side.
He knew the sins intimately. They were sneering at him from where the woman knelt. He knew he was on trial instead. A trial where his heart stood accused. The searchlight was on him. The judge’s gavel was for him. He came to his senses. The stone fell from his hands, unknowing. He turned around and walked away, ashamed. Then, another left.
He was the next oldest member of the crowd. He knew the old man. He was a good friend. I guess he felt what the old man felt too. It was a deja va moment for him. He had seen it all played out before. Like the old man who'd left, he stood arraigned in a trial of his own. The role-reversal couldn't be more ironic as his accusers held the stones in their own hands. He even felt one or two hits as he bled from his temple. He begged for forgiveness before the crowd. He too relented and left, trailing behind the old man.
One by one, they left. The disquiet became quiet. The clamor dampened. The vindictive spirit deflated. The men, the women, even the young ones, gave up their stones. They all knew self-righteous when they saw it.
Then, as the crowd thinned, I too caught myself in the accused. As she knelt there, partially hidden from sight by the master, I stood still, contemplating and broken. My grip also loosened. I have lost the heart to stone.
But strangely, I noticed that not all of them threw their stones away - especially not the oldest. Most of them kept one or two stones. Some even more. I then picked up some of my stones and gave chase. I ran up to the oldest and asked why he had kept them, the stones that is. He replied that they for him serve two purposes. One was to remind him of his own flaws. And a pause ensued. The old man took out a stone from his side and I noticed it had traces of dried blood on it.
He then stared at the stone and told me about the second purpose: "I train and discipline others better when I am being reminded." With that, the old man left.
I then returned to the place where the accused was and realized that the crowd had all departed. Before I too walked away, this was what I overheard.
Master: Stand up and look around you woman, where are your accusers? They condemn you no more. Neither do I. Go now and leave your life of sin.
Accused: (puzzled) But master, what sin have I committed?