Sometimes a carpet maker will sign her work. If you look closely, you may see a stitch that's a different color or a different shape, and it doesn't seem to quite fit. That just might be the artist's signature. It can look like a flaw at first, at least, if one doesn't know what it is. But once the flaw is seen for what it really is, a mark of reminder, it becomes an endearment.
Around a year ago today, two men showed up in the Masjid al-Haram. The Masjid al-Haram is the gigantic structure built around the Ka'bah in Makkah. Gigantic is no exaggeration. This is a place that can hold around 4 million people. That's just about every person in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, give or take.
One of the men was there to pray. The other, to prey.
Friends had warned of the thieves of Makkah. These thieves can range from pickpockets to con men to traffickers. It's hard to be believe that in a place as holy as this, there would be such evil as this. But then again, it's not. It's kind of the human story, all wrapped up into one.
The one man said his wallet had been lost. He had no money. He had no way of providing food for his family--his babies. He showed pictures, too.
Perhaps he had told the story one too many times that day, because when he tried to manufacture some tears, they wouldn't come. Or maybe, this was his first time out of the gate for the day, and the juices just hadn't woken up yet. Either way, his attempt at crying was comical.
We both knew why he was there, and we both knew we knew why he was there. If there had been any doubt, the second time he tried to cry cleared it all up.
Yet we played the game.
We played that game for thirty minutes. One of us would beg for cash. The other would ask questions about the other's experience, his faith. Cash. Questions. Cash. Questions.
Eventually, as the one left with his cash, he gave a wry grin and warned of thieves.
That grin was otherworldly. It came from his eyes as much as his lips. And at that moment, even a cynic might have thought he had run up against a jinn.
The immediate thought was, "What was that??" You know how it feels when you're reading a book and there's this whiplash of a non sequitur that almost causes you to put the book away permanently? But if you keep reading, you later catch yourself saying, "Hey, wait a second. Ohhhhhhh!"?
Well, that was it.
You see, it turns out he wasn't a thief at all. Yes, he was a con man, but he didn't steal anything. In fact, he was paid. He earned what he took. And it wasn't just cash, either. It was time--precious time in the Masjid al-Haram, time that can't ever be bought back. I paid him for that...And for a few minutes of feeling sanctimonious.
At first, this was a pain that threatened the whole thing. How could a person travel to this holy place, complete the holy rite of Umrah, and then be so quick to sell it all away--for a few minutes of pride?
Well, it's kind of the human story, all wrapped up into one, isn't it?
May God bless that man or jinn or whatever he was. And thanks be to God for that little signature on the carpet of that day in late, last January.