Many days and nights passed after meeting Ibrahim; I spent this time mostly in solitude and prayer, with the occasional visit from one of the brothers, usually the youngest, who brought me food, water, or replaced a dirty bucket. But Ibrahim didn’t return, not for a long time, though I felt something change in the brothers’ visits with me, which I attributed to their grandfather; it was not quite a respect for me, but something more akin to an openness, or a willingness to see me for the first time.
It began as a faint smile during one visit, or an extra glance before shutting the door; a softening expression in their eyes, which admitted my humanity, that betrayed a dawning awareness I was more than a mere utility for their needs—that I was a being, apart from them, yet the same as they. Like the dawning of the sun on a new day, their awareness was opening in an equally surprising way; a recognition of something shared between us, that bridged apparent gaps between us, that revealed an expanded brotherhood—a shared humanity, of which we all belong.
I wondered to myself—could they put aside past pain and suffering, and follow the path opening up before them? Could they sacrifice their desire to add suffering to sufferings—their wish to return pain for pains—and discover a new desire, to heal the past divisions, and forge an expanded, and renewed community of man? I understood they felt oppressed, had been treated unfairly, and adding to these injuries, they had also lost the presence of their own beloved father—who they were now attempting to rescue in their own power, and to bring back home. But perhaps I was reading too much into these subtle changes I perceived in them; I didn’t really know what was in their hearts, since we are all masked from one another to a large degree.
When Ibrahim finally did return to see me, as I suspected he would, he was very serious and somber as he sat down beside me, and leaned back with a sigh, against the cool wall of the little shed. We sat side-by-side in silence for a while; and as I waited for him to begin I glanced through the open door at several chickens wandering beneath the olive trees searching for something to eat. He hadn’t bothered to close or lock the door behind him, knowing now I had no intention of attempting an escape.
He began by grasping my forearm firmly, and he smiled warmly, as I turned to face him and he confided, “I have to tell you some things…it was not easy for me to come back here. No, I did not want to come see you again. But…I have had a hard life…good enough, but difficult…fighting…many things to fight for, and against…and many things lost, just like anyone. But you reminded me that life was tender…and sweet…I forgot that sweetness…as a child, I knew it. And it pained me, to remember…and what I’ve wasted, by fighting…all these years, my entire life…but I’m old now, what do I have to fight for now?!…But what if I had fought for that sweetness!?! Why couldn’t I have fought for that tenderness?! That is what pains me now…I think, I fought the wrong things…the wrong people…I should have fought myself!”
Ibrahim tapped his own chest with his clenched fist, then grabbed my forearm again urgently, and repeated, “I should have fought against myself! Anger, vengeance…these things were right, they seemed right to me…but they were impossible…whatever it was I hoped for in these things…they were a mirage! Worse than a mirage…they were a cancer in me…they destroyed sweetness and beauty in me…do you understand?! No, I should have fought for what matters…that very thing…a peaceful soul…and good relations…we lost land, we lost our homes…but worse, we lost ourselves…I lost my son! No, he’s still alive, in prison now…but I lost him to the same cancer…to anger, unforgiveness…and these boys…” Ibrahim gestured and nodded towards the open door, “…they are doing the same as I did, the same as their father. It is not what I should have given them…it is not a good inheritance!”
“You’re free now, to give them something better,” I replied. “You still have time to give them…yourself, truly!…Although that can be a fearful thing.”
We sat for a few moments watching with amusement, as several chickens began to bicker over an empty bottle near the base of an olive tree.
“Do you remember any of the Bible stories your old church-man told you as a child?” I asked Ibrahim, “No?…I was thinking about the main story…the gift of love, given away at great cost…it cost the giver everything, giving his love to others, it cost him his own life…so love can be a fearful thing.”
Suddenly the chickens interrupted me with loud squawking as their argument over the empty bottle intensified.
I continued, “But it also surprisingly returned everything back to him…and also for those he loved, they gained everything they had previously lost…so that in the end, everything was gained…His was a beautiful life…and also a perfect death, if there can be such a thing…it was a beautiful thing, his gift of love…his sacrificial life…and it yielded an abundant and fruitful death.”
“Well, that is a very good inheritance!…Perhaps you are right, my friend…and maybe I can do something similar for my own son, and for those boys also…my grandsons,” remarked Ibrahim hopefully. “I must go,” he said, getting up and walking through the doorway.
He turned towards me and smiled once again, before walking around the corner and out of sight, leaving the door open behind him. The chickens had given up their fight over the empty bottle, and were now wandering beneath the olive trees.
* * *