160. Yusef’s Mellifluous Wisdom


After my favorite aunt’s funeral a black taxi waited patiently for me to step toward the curb. Inside the cavernous old St. Peter’s church, I had imagined a wall of beer and liquor teetering over the assembled mourners. My mother’s family grew up in this church and had issues with alcohol. I tried to picture all the alcohol the family had consumed over Molly’s 93 years. It would require the Hoover Dam to hold it back from drowning the mourners. Such waste.

[Where is it?  The flow of joyous heartbeats that

Follow without anxiety attached.

Where is the peace beyond understanding?

All I have is an ache in my spine

And darkness on the horizon

I know what the Lord has promised

But I don’t see or feel it

Blessing me

Still I can bless others and wait

For the funeral organ to play “Danny Boy”

In a jazz arrangement for me

Vague, too vague to call it suffering

Just an expectation of more than is

It is up to me to change the game

Jazz it up, fizz, percolate

Is it too late?  Never

Still it’s hard to dismiss

The mouth that has not been kissed

Just the presence of a breeze

Would ease the built up weight

Of stultifying humidity

Just a kiss of wind

Just a touch

And off I’d go]

The Middle Eastern driver walked over to me and called my name politely, nudging me out of my reverie.

How did he know? I look like all these other Irish men. How long had he been waiting?

“I did not wish to disturb you,” he said gently. I got in. Pleasantly confused. Taxis aren’t usually gentle.

Moroccan, actually, from Casablanca, so he said.

“Of all the gin joints you had to walk into mine”

Ran through my head only it was taxis this time not airplanes and Nazis and French collaborators at the piano…”As Time Goes By”.

Bogey and Ingrid Bergman, what a pair! “Play it again, Sam.”

What breathless tragic sweet despair, clutching at the almost dust of love. “Here’s looking at you, Kid.”

Lots of folks asked him, but he had never seen the movie. No.

“Logan Airport, can we make it in 30 minutes?”

“No problem”, he assured me as we sat in snarled traffic at Harvard Square. I wasn’t so sure. Airports make me anxious.

I wondered if he were Moslem but didn’t ask.

“Death”, he said, “is inescapable yet we do not prepare for it.”

And I knew I had a philosopher behind the wheel, waiting for an opening to merge into the clotted Mass. Ave. and the segue into deeper conversation.

“Yes”, I agreed, “we prefer to look at what is and ignore what is next.”

We meshed on some plain of understanding. His smile was big, honest and pure. I was connected somehow, hungry for the next words he spoke.

“My grandmother in Paris sends me honey sometimes. That is why I drove to D.C. once

To get a package from a cousin kinsman.  I believe in honey as medicine, you see.

I take some for a sore throat or when I am not well. It cures me in a natural way.

The bees eat of the nectar and bring the health of flowers to the hive. It’s a circle that I partake of. God puts the medicine in the flowers.”

“Yes, Yusef, I see you are healthy and happy, I can see. [We’ll always have Paris, Kid.]What of your family?”

“I was married once for a week. I knew after one day that it was wrong for us, but I could not tell my bride. It is hard for the woman to be rejected. I just knew all along that it would not work. I want children too. My friend who married at the same time has two now. I would want one, I think, to give it all that I could.”

“It seems that too many children suffer from not enough. You know in olden times people practiced control by avoiding the woman when she was fertile and breastfeeding the child. Once the child was weaned, well, then it was time to have another.”

“Yes, but my third child is a treasure. Should I put her back because she took from her older sisters?”

“Oh, I see. God controls all now doesn’t he?  If you are a believer.”

“I am and all we can do is obey and bring glory to God.”

“Yes, when we choose, we must listen to our hearts and pray. The right way will be clear.

“So many people want to chase things, you know, the Lexus and the big house. And that is their reward for hard work with what you see. But they don’t look beyond this life to their eternal reward. The house will crumble and the Lexus rust, but eternity never ends or deteriorates.

“Work is always good unless you do crime. But why work without benefits and retirement, you know?  I drive a taxi. I get no retirement, so I look for other work with benefits and retirement.  That is only natural. Even unbelievers do this. It makes sense without thinking to want better in this life.  But I want to retire with God, so I work for His benefit and His plan for eternity.”

We drove through Boston’s tunnels effortlessly and arrived early at Logan.

I enjoyed the trip, I told him in several ways.  He is a holy man and God put us together today.

“Yusef, thank you. You are wise, my friend. You were the best part of my day.”

Without any fog or Nazis in towncars, I boarded my plane for home.

And I still think of him now and again eight years later. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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