Elijah arrived at Masada too early to see my dad smile at an Israeli cowboy.
Dad was attracted to the cowboy’s penetrating voice. So he migrated toward the voice until he stood behind the little cluster of Americans who had hired the cowboy to guide them around the top of Masada.
If some Israeli tour guides look like college interns earning three credits in The Geography of the Holy Land, this one reminded me of a Wyoming cowboy who earned his spurs in at least 58 spring cattle drives. He wore a dirty white Stetson, a black and white goatee, and a dull-grey six-shooter. To lead into his next lecture, he called out a question:
“What famous person died when he was only 33?”
The little group of paying followers stood mute — which made Dad feel uneasy. My dad was raised in a Free Methodist church where no polite person will leave a Sunday-school teacher’s question unanswered. It wasn’t Sunday, and we had climbed about as far from church pews as you can reach, but he needed to break the silence. So Dad raised his hand and called out every Sunday scholar’s favorite answer.
The guide looked up and snarled, “I’ll thank you not to mention that man!”
Uhn! I looked to see how Dad was taking this slap in the face.
Dad was listening, head up, and smiling. I had seen that smile on him sitting in the office of a banker or standing in the yard of a lumber mill. It said, “Tell me, my friend.”
I like to think the slap in the face reminded Dad we were guests. That our hosts had been rescued from murderers who called themselves Christians. That this cowboy was standing in his own front room, where he had earned the right to snarl.
As Dad smiled, the guide launched into his lecture, and since Elijah saw Masada in 874 BC, he walked by too early to hear a lecture in 1984 AD about Alexander the Great kneeling to Jaddua the High Priest in 332 BC.