Much of the beauty along this way has been found in unexpected subtlety. It’s kind of like walking away from the sounds of traffic and out toward those of nature, allowing the ears to open, really open. At first one hears only the birds nearby, and maybe some leaves whispering to one another. As the listening continues, the berth widens. There are birds in the distance, too. And cicadas and crickets. Then, as the ears continue to open, one realizes there are even more birds farther away and more cicadas and more crickets and myriad other creatures beyond that…and beyond that.
It is there, in the beyond-beyond-that, where the exhalations of God have touched most deeply.
Some of us ask for things to be written in the stars. But how often are we willing to wait long enough under the dark sky to see the script? As for this impatient soul, the answer is rarely. But once…
A group of us were in Istanbul. It was our last night together, and it was late. Three of us weren’t quite ready for things to end, so we went out for one, last walk. It’s hard to say how long we were out or how far we traveled. But when we passed into the two o’clock hour, we realized standing outside the Ayasofya-i Kebir Cami-i Şerifi (the Hagia Sophia) there couldn’t be any more avoiding it. It was time to close the book.
Istanbul, like any city of over 15 million people, has a good share of its own unfavorable surprises. Not everyone will be loving for their neighbors what they love for themselves. And like in any city of over 15 million people, those types of situations seem more likely to occur after midnight. All a roundabout way of saying—the three of us figured all would be fine…but still, it wouldn’t each of us felt a twinge over what could be hiding in the shadows.
When we started to turn on our way, a stranger offered to escort us home. At first we were a bit reluctant. But he kept insisting.
This sort of thing isn't uncommon in Istanbul. What is a bit uncommon, though, is that the insistent one was an enormous, beautiful, blond...
Anatolian Shepherd...and an immediate friend
He stayed in stride with us, right at my knee, just about the whole way back to the hotel. He was so proud and lighthearted, almost jaunty. As the memory goes, it was like he was smiling. That is, except when someone would come a bit closer to us than his comfort allowed. It was his idea of too close, too, not necessarily anyone else’s, and when that would happen, he would leave no doubt about how he felt about it. Then, as soon as he felt he had re-secured the requisite space, he would go right back into that proud, lighthearted, almost jaunty walk. Smiling away.
We arrived back at our hotel safe and sound, of course. There was an awkward minute or two because it was clear he wasn’t leaving without something more. So, how does one make a dog understand gratitude and good-bye, all at once?
In precisely the way one talks to any friend. I put my eyes even with his and said, “Thank you for watching over us. You’re a good friend.” After another second, “You can go back home. It’s okay. Assalamu'alaikum."
And he did. No fuss or fanfare. He just turned and jaunted off without ever looking back.
Hazrati Naqshband tells us that, one day, while he was tending to some sick dogs, one of them made him feel so happy he began to cry. As the tears flowed, the dog fell on his back and raised his front paws to the sky—the paws of supplication. The great sheikh heard the dog’s lament, not as whimper or a whine, but as a voice. So, Hz. Naqshband raised his own hands in supplication and began to say “ameen, ameen,” until the pup’s du’a ended. It was at this moment that Hz. Naqshband tells us he felt part of every human being and part of every creation on earth.