Sometimes memories are more like dreams where snippets of this or that are pieced together with little gaps in between. The colors may be off. Sequencing may be jumbled. Things tend to look a bit skewgee.
If not careful, it's easy to wander beyond the sphere of memory and into that of the manufactured. Not on purpose--just the result of this logical brain trying to fill in what it perceives as empty spaces.
There's a little shop somewhere amid the maze of the Fes medina. The shop is small even by medina standards, It's run by a large man with gentle eyes, and it's not clear at all what he sells there. It's dark inside, the only light coming from the shadowy street.
For some reason, thinking of it now recalls the feeling of being in a tiny cabin in the middle of winter, one where the woodstove is red hot; so much so, the heat steams up from under your skin before you can even get your coat off.
But it's Fes, in late June.
That's fragment one.
After a few perfunctory greetings, the shopkeeper steps within what seems a nose's length. In hindsight, that measurement can't be right. He's holding his arms almost perpendicular to his chest. His hands are turned up to make du'a (supplication) for this stranger standing in front of him. By math alone, there's no way he can be as close as it feels, even if it feels like our faces could touch.
The shopkeeper offers the du'a in Arabic. The prayer goes on and on. There's no color to the memory at this point, except that the sun is bright and gold, a glowing aureole the painter has placed somewhat off kilter to look less intentional.
There is someone else, but she's standing a couple of feet behind, a witness to this story. And thank God for witnesses, especially this one. Mainly because she is a remarkable person. But partly because none of this episode could be believed if it weren't for her confirming it.
The du'a is earnest. It is like the heat from the woodstove.
That's fragment three.
When the new friend stops praying, there is a moment where, even in dreamspace, silence would mean something. We smile shyly at one another.
"Come, come," he says, and the three of us step into his shop. He shows us his wares. A quick glance to the left and right is enough to take in the whole lot. It's not clear if he wants us to buy something or if he just wants to show us his life. We do not buy anything.
As we turn to leave, he remains as generous as his du'a. I give him a set of prayer beads, the ones that the welcoming imam had offered back in Kars, six months earlier. It feels almost as if the imam might have given them to be held in trust only, in preparation for a circumstance just like this.
And that's all the fragments.
So often with these sorts of strange encounters, as ethereal as they've been from time to time, a more earthy side of the constitution has also shown itself. That day, it came in the form of miserliness, one of the sharper tools in my toolkit of hypocrisy. Whatever haphazard collection of things that man was selling that morning, my regret to this day is that we didn't buy arm loads.
Prayer beads don't pay for bread.
And that's where this was going to end...
Regret can get tricky, at least when it comes to the way this mind works, anyway. Because while it's true that regret is often rooted in legitimate remorse, it's not necessarily so. That same logical part of the mind mentioned earlier, the one that works to fill the empty spaces, has also been known to manipulate those spaces.
That part of the mind occasionally uses regret as skillful cover. It makes regret look a lot like contrition, when it's really just trying to justify something else. And in naked honesty, sometimes it's hard to know which is going on.
Muhammad (ﷺ) taught us a prayer to escape miserliness. The gist of it is that we don't dwell on having missed the mark. Instead, we take refuge in God's abundance. Our eyes should be pointed where we want to go.
So maybe it's time to turn, then. The missed mark, and the regret that accompanied it (no matter the level of sincerity) can't be the end to this story. It can't ever be. Miserliness does need to be accounted for, and changes do need to be made, but if the instructions of Muhammad (ﷺ) are heard, the endpoint is much more heartening, much more immense.
The real end to this story must also be its beginning. It must be the gentle reminder that God's motherly hand is always turning this infant's face back toward the face of Love. This is a reason to say thank You. There is always a reason to say thank You.
We'll never know what that beatific shopkeeper might have prayed that day. But wouldn't it be something if he had somehow intuited that miserliness? And that when he prayed, maybe he was asking God to never leave such an infant unattended? A prayer for God to always turn this cheek, lovingly and tenderly, back toward the face of God.