Istanbul, Turkey, is the most mysterious place that I have ever been. Over a decade ago, I found myself on a dirty, commercial street running parallel to the docks after arriving with excitement racing about in my head. The street was crowded with vendors selling everything from watches to suitcases, fish, clothing, and radios.
I quickly tried to herd my family through the maze of vendors so that we could see the sights of Istanbul. All went well until a man who looked like a survivor of Asia Minor's last Bubonic plague stopped Michelle, who was six at the time. He was a grimy old man who was selling yellow tea roses to tourists. He wore a three-piece suit that Goodwill would have rejected as unsuitable.
I thought that the vendor was trying to sell a rose to Michelle. As the crowd pushed me to continue, I thought, "This old man is smart. He has hooked Michelle, and we will soon own an unwanted and already wilted yellow rose." To my amazement, he merely patted Michelle on the head after presenting her the gift of the rose. As I quickly came to rescue her from the vendor, he simply turned, smiled, and walked away to resume selling yellow tea roses to tourist. We also were off to see the sites of Istanbul. The old derelict vendor and his roses were soon forgotten, and Michelle's rose was unceremoniously thrown away during the day and forgotten along with the old vendor.
The next day, we were to sail at noon for Mykonos, I sat sunning myself on the deck while reading. Tiring of this, I decided to go ashore for one final time. None of my family wanted to go back with me, so I went alone to pick up a few final souvenirs. I still had $10 or $15 in Turkish money in my jeans. After an hour of not finding anything that I needed or even wanted, I started to return to the ship.
Suddenly, as I neared the dock, that old vendor who sold yellow roses to tourists appeared as if he were divinely sent. This time there was no milling crowd; he and I were all alone on the deserted dock. I stopped, surprised by his unexpected epiphany; he seemed to be there for a reason. The street was quiet and barren. As evening etched its way toward the darkness of that day, something drew me toward that old man. As if we were human magnets, we came toward each other. Without thinking, I reached into my pocket and pulled out 2700 or was it 7400 Turkish lira. By the time the two of us met in the middle of the street, my hand had withdrawn the roll of paper money and a couple of coins from my pocket. I gently placed my gift into his hand. He smiled a most knowing smile. He did not offer me a rose, although I had surely purchased several weeks' supply of them. The old man simply smiled, turned, and walked away as he had the day before when he gave Michelle his yellow rose.
I remained standing there for a long time watching the old man disappear at the end of the dock. In that brief encounter, I had experienced our shared humanity. There on the dirty and empty street next to the dock in Istanbul, I found a man who unconditionally expressed his love toward my daughter.
A decade has come and gone since that incident in Istanbul. Surely, by now that old man would have died. Someone probably found him all curled up and dead in some dirty back street of Istanbul near the docks with his tiny yellow tea roses for tourists still clutched in his hand. He would have been unceremoniously buried somewhere outside the city. I doubt whether anyone mourned his passing, but I do. He taught me an important lesson about the humanity that we shared, although we were so very different. I am a better man today for having met that old man from Istanbul with his wilted yellow tea roses for the tourists and for my Michelle.
This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.