Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dinner with Abraham


The waitress comes for our drink order.

“What’s the oldest wine you have?” murmurs Abraham, peering over the menu, which it’s clear that he cannot actually read.

“A 1970 something...” she says, but she’s distracted by the baby at the next table.

Abraham stares, slightly perturbed. “I’ll take it,” he says anyway.

I order a diet coke.

“Women and babies!” he scoffs as our waitress scampers towards the bar. “You give them their own land, a tent all their own, and all your love, and all they can think about is babies. And you know what else? They never let anything go!” He stops and mimics Sarah’s voice- “You know, if your plan had worked, and they’d kept thinking I was your sister, I could have been a mother by now! And there where would you have been?!” He coughs out of exasperation. The waitress, on cue, returns with his wine and my soda. He stares at the bubbles in my drink and at the color of his wine. Then he sniffs it and sips it, grimacing at it’s sweetness, and looks around before copying the other diners and returning to the menu.

I know he still can’t read, so I try to suggest some of my favorites. He shrugs off my suggestions, telling me he knows what he wants to eat. The waitress comes back. I order a chicken salad. He orders the ram.

“You mean the lamb,” she says, confused.

“God will provide,” he assures her. She writes down the code for the lamb special, I see over her shoulder. I decide not to tell Abraham. He seems a little frustrated as it is with the wine.

They bring bread to the table. Abraham takes a piece and stares at the butter. He spreads a little on, and I can see a smile dancing in the corners of his mouth. But he doesn’t talk about the food. He jumps back to Sarah.

“Can you imagine,” he asks me, “being ninety and finally getting the child you’ve always wanted? Sarah was happier than she had ever been. She started to make little baby blankets- she kept making red blankets and clothes that would fade in the sun. I won’t lie, I dyed them purple during the night. My son was not wearing pink.  She never figured it out.” His eyes dance as he describes the year leading up to Isaac.

And then, like a father, we go through the first years- the first steps that he took, his first words, the first time he said I love you (“to his mother, of course,” Abraham tells me, “but really, he had the right idea), his favorites and his dislikes, and all the things that surround young children.

“He was my son,” Abraham tells me, “I mean, Ishmael was my son too. But this was the son that God had promised me. The one that was going to carry on my bloodline and make me into a nation. This kid was it.”

The food arrives before us. Abraham grimaces at the dinner, but sighs and digs in.  I think about encouraging him to use the utensils, but fight the urge and let him continue.

“And then, one day, God says I gotta get him up to the mountain and give him back. I was livid. I couldn’t even tell Sarah about it- she would have killed me to stop me from hurting him. But this kid was God’s, right? He gave him to me in my later years. What choice did I have? If God wanted him, I was going to have to sacrifice him.”

“Boy did Isaac whine about having to go on that trip with me. He wanted to stay home and listen to some harpist that was coming through town. But nope, I packed him up and got ready to go. Made him kiss his mother, too, because I figured that would be the end of that. And we set off.”

“The next thing you know, we are on a mountain, looking down at where we just left everyone else, and Isaac is eyeing me with a lot of weariness,” Abraham continues, trying his mashed potatoes. He doesn’t give much of a sound or show of approval, but they are gone before he starts again. I get the feeling that this man doesn’t show approval well. Maybe he is afraid that if he showed his interest in the starch, the Lord will ask him to give it up.

“He’s looking at me, asking where the sacrifice is, and I’m debating just outing it here. I mean, at least give the kid the opportunity to run if he should want it,” he admits. “But I don’t want to get into any trouble with God, and part of me is wondering what He’s gonna do, so I let it go. I tell him God will provide, and we are off again.”

“We get to the top of the mountain, and there are all these things bubbling up inside my heart. I’m thinking to myself, Come on God, you promised here! You told me I would be a great nation. You finally gave me a son in Ishmael, then you tell me he’s not the child of the promise, and you make me send him off. And now, you take the child that you gave me instead, and you tell me to give him back!”

“And suddenly, I’m not just thinking about this promise anymore. I’m angry- angry that I left my family, changed my name, got this little piece of land to live in. I’m angry that Sarah and I had to wait so long for nothing. I’m angry that God choose me out of all people, not someone else. He didn’t choose Lot- nope, it was me, and now He’s messing with my head about it.”

“But then I remember Lot. And how good God was to him, even though I couldn’t hold up my end of the bargain. I’m remembering how he kept Lot safe. That brings me back to how he kept Sarah safe in Egypt. Then how he gave us riches in our weakness. And I am defeated. Maybe God is asking a lot, but I believe- I know He knows better. So I sigh and start to get the sacrifice together.”

“God waits until the very last second to let me know what he was going to do, let me tell you. I’ve got Isaac up on the alter, everything ready to go. The kid is squirming down beneath my knife, which is over my head. My eyes are closed- how can I watch? And then, suddenly, my hand won’t move. And I’m hearing voices.”

“I look up and theres this angel, telling me not kill my son. And I remember even thinking that this was some kind of joke, and I wasn’t having any of it, believe me, but then, in the bushes, there is this ram. Instant sacrifice. I rip the kid off the alter, make my offering, and got out of there.”

The waitress comes by, asking if we want desert. I order an iced mocha. Abraham orders the chocolate lava cake, the cheesecake, and the apple crumb tart. I shoot him a look.

“I’ve been dead for like, 5000 years,” he reminds me. I let him have his desert.

“Needless to say, almost taking your son out is not something that you laugh about over family dinners.” Abraham is digging into the cheesecake, telling me the end of his story. “Sarah was just mad. And the kid- he didn’t talk to me for a while. Our relationship never really grew strong. And then when Sarah died, he was so mopey, I figured I’d have to marry him off. But that’s a different story.”

The check comes with my mocha, and I put it on a credit card, laughing to myself. Dinner with one of the founding fathers of my faith is never a cheap excursion. But it’s worth the time.

Looking at me, his fork, which he’s almost mastered, is in the lava cake, and he offers me a few final thoughts.

“I don’t regret it, kid,” he tells me. “It was enough. The nation was born. The promise was kept. The Messiah came in and all. But let’s be honest, I’d rather have gone to see that darn harpist. And I hate the harp. I’m really more of a heavy rock kind of guy.”

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