10.10.08

She Held Out Her Hand


Lost on the streets of Istanbul while searching for the Blue Mosque, I came upon a small, old mosque in disrepair with its doorways all boarded up.  Since I was not far from the Grand Bazaar where I had spent some time admiring the silk scarves, fabric, rugs, glass, drums, and other musical instruments, I was familiar with some of the items and their going rate.

Each vendor came out from his stall or storefront as was their custom, accosting the tourist with an ever-changing price in the barter banter that could be heard everywhere. These vendors watched each approaching person with great attention to see what bauble caught their eye, before exploding in a cacophony of all the reasons to buy, shamelessly moving from one potential buyer to the next. 

A young boy had seen me with my packages as I exited the Bazaar and inquired what I had paid for this or that, and then loudly proclaimed that I had paid far too much and must learn to barter better or hire someone like him to get the best price for me.

 Consequently, it was no surprise that I was feeling a little overwhelmed as I hurried past the many street vendors eager for my money. There was one I passed but I was drawn back to an old woman who sat with a scarf on her head in traditional clothing, with her legs crossed in the shadow of the old mosque.  I saw her crippled feet and her wares minimally displayed. It wasn’t because of her plight that I returned. It was the words and the gesture combined – for she held out her hand with a small, heart-shaped piece of glass – not to beg, but to give. “Free, lady, free for you… no money… no money!” – so refreshing, so simple with an honesty in her voice that was compelling.

So there I was, standing in front of her, to look at the pretty blue glass in her briefcase open on the ground beside her just off to the side of the walkway.  Glancing at the various round sizes, I quickly pointed to one of the smaller pieces and asked, “How much?”

 “One million,” she said.

As I bent down to look more closely, noticing as I did that the quality was not as good as I had seen earlier, she reached toward me and pinned the tiny, glass heart on my shirt. I was amazed at her generosity. She had the appearance of owning very little and making do with a simple, but meager, life.

“I’ll take two,” I said. I gave her the 2 million lira willingly without bartering, paying more than I knew I would elsewhere, and picked out the glass pieces, careful to leave the best behind. As I did so, she dropped another heart-shaped pin into my hand. She looked into my eyes and I knew that she understood what I’d done. I could see she was happy.

“God bless you,” I said. My heart was full. All the clamor and confusion of the surrounding streets was swallowed up in this simple exchange.

She smiled – her eyes brimming and blew me a kiss with a humble, yet wise nod – and I knew

 that somehow, in that moment, we had both found God.