Friday was my shopping day, the last day I’d be in Rome. I needed to buy gifts for the special people in my life, a small token of the gratitude I felt for their love and support. I was not on the shopping list. I’d had a fantastic time seeing the sights of the city – often lost, sometimes walking in circles, always seeing beauty and eating well. I had already accepted my gift to me.
I headed over toward the Pantheon, to some of the better shopping areas of the city. One disadvantage of staying perpetually lost is the inability to backtrack easily. Getting back somewhere I’d been meant charting a new course. As I walked that new route, I passed a men’s clothing store. And kept walking. Fifty feet. And turned back, perhaps by the thought of “Why not, just go in,” perhaps something else. I simply had to go into that shop.
If you know me, you know I’m not a shopper. That doesn’t mean I don’t buy things. It usually means I go online, or I go into a store with a clear idea of what I want, get it, and go. I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic trait most guys share, genetic modification excluded.
A young man engaged me in conversation with very good English. (As I wore my black, pinch-front cowboy hat throughout the trip, no one mistook me for a native.) Before long, I was trying on sports jackets. Exquisitely tailored, made in Italy. Yes, I was uptown now. And then the owner of the shop walked in, the young man’s father.
Bazooka immediately took over the fitting – “50 drop 6, that is your size!” We talked. We connected. Even now, writing this a week later, I feel the chill of goose bumps. And so did he. “It is not by chance you are here. You are supposed to be here. Providence brought you in. Look at my goose bumps!”
Bazooka and I share a common background in law enforcement, but perhaps a more profound commonality in faith. Bazooka is a Jew. I am a Christian. I’ve been to Israel. He has fought for Her. It dawned on me at one point in our conversation that I was in the presence of a very important person in the history of that country. Our relationship began to exceed the one normally reserved for commerce.
As I tried on clothing, Bazooka sent his son to order cappuccino for me. Shortly thereafter, a young lady arrived with a steaming cup of milk-frothed caffeine, served on a tray. I’ve never known such luxury. I felt as though I’d somehow landed among long lost friends.
Yes, I updated my wardrobe. I justified it by noting I’d not purchased good clothing for over a decade. Of course we justify what we want. The trousers needed to be hemmed, and so were sent out to the tailor. I’d come back around quarter past five to collect them.
I went about and did the rest of my shopping, had yet another great meal, and returned a bit early to the shop to pick up the pants. Friday afternoon in Rome is a lot like Friday afternoon in our metro area – too many cars, too few roads, people everywhere. Except that there’s basically no real rules to traffic in Rome except don’t hurt anyone. The tailor was stuck in traffic. So I waited and chatted with Bazooka and his son.
A phone call was made. “You will celebrate Shabbat with us tonight. Here’s the address and the phone number. Take a cab. I’ll see you at eight.” I rode in the cab that evening wandering exactly what I’d gotten myself into. Me, a complete stranger, going to a complete stranger’s home for dinner.
I called on my arrival and Bazooka came out to show me in. He and his family live in a nice apartment set back off the highway. Well appointed, spacious, with a generous outdoor terrace. Yet what was really amazing was the warmth with which he and his wife greeted me. I was given a yarmulke and prayers were said in Hebrew. I ate an incredible home cooked kosher meal – roasted artichoke, roasted eggplant, pureed squash, fish, and bread. And then, on a separate plate with separate utensils, a slice of lamb.
Dessert was served, pictures shared, conversation ensued. At the end of the evening, Bazooka’s son drove me back to hotel. “My father doesn’t usually do things like this. The two of you must have really connected.” Indeed, we did.
I wonder if heaven will be like this. Where complete strangers will embrace as old friends, their cares and conflicts stripped away by the Eternal Shabbat of the Almighty. Bazooka asked me to remind all my friends to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the Holy City. That’s a prayer we all can pray.