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OTHER ITA SITES:
Unreasonable joy and happiness came to me on an ordinary day, an unremarkable day, when I was playing poker. The clatter of chips and the shuffling of cards played background music to the conversation of the players. Now and then, the dealer would call “Seat open!” and a floorman would escort another player to a table. The nine players at my table were all sizes, shapes, and colors. Some were Asian, some Persian, some black, some white-bread American like me. We were all enjoying the game, taking turns winning a pot, whining a little when we got beat.
A wizened old man who spoke with some sort of European accent was losing a bit more than the rest of us. I named him “Mr. Grumpy” in my mind as he threw his cards on the table with a curse again. “Just take your losses with good grace or go home,” I thought primly to myself.
A brash young player named David sitting next to me lost his patience. “Don’t throw your cards like that,” he lectured the old man. “Mr. Grumpy” yelled back at him and as he did, his shirt sleeve fell askew, and I saw the tattoo on his arm. A blue tattoo, a number. Like they engraved on you at Auschwitz. Or Sobibor. Or Bergen-Belsen. As he stood up waveringly, clutching his cane, and then stalked off for a few minutes, I thought of what horrors this man had seen, what terrors he must have endured in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
David hadn’t noticed it. He continued to complain about the old man shuffling out the door. “They should reprimand him for throwing cards,” he said angrily. “He shouldn’t be allowed to play.”
“He has a tattoo,” I said.
All the players looked at me.
“He has a tattoo,” I said again. “Here.” I motioned to my arm. “A concentration camp tattoo.”
Nothing else was said. In the silence, I could see everyone at the table making an inner shift to understanding, sorrow, kindness. He had a tattoo. We all knew what it meant. And we knew that none of us knew what it meant.
When he came back to the table, the Chinese man next to him helped him with his chair. The Iranian player smiled and nodded. The old man showed his cards at the end of the next hand he played, and several people said, “Nice hand.” I saw David’s winning cards as he folded them face down and smiled at me conspiratorially. “Good job, David,” I whispered, as we watched our newly discovered friend rake in the pot. A little moment, a little gift, a little win. But I had won something bigger than a few chips that day.
In that moment, I loved everyone in the room and beyond the room, full-out, whole-hearted, helplessly, generously. We were the same; of one breath, one body. We had all suffered, all wept, all loved, all laughed, all prayed to our own version of the zillion aspects of God. When James Lipton asked Meryl Streep what she would want God to say when she arrived in heaven, she said, “Everybody in!” I read of a man who told of his near-death experience where he passed through a great light and saw Jesus. Was he judged? he was asked. He shook his head and said, “The Jesus I saw had room for everybody.”
I tried to hold on to that deep welling joy, but it was like trying to put smoke in a bottle. It faded away in wisps on the air as I grasped at it. I dropped back into my own separate self. The larger picture on the jigsaw puzzle of life was lost once more and I saw only my own little, worn piece.
But I haven’t forgotten. I want to feel that love again. And so, sometimes, when someone is cranky, or tired, or out-of-sorts, I recall that somewhere deep, in some hidden spot on their soul, they wear a tattoo. And I smile at them in remembrance of this ordinary day when, for a few brief moments, I was in love with the whole world.
©Copyright Chellie Campbell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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Travel Part B