My grandmother, my mother’s mother, after whom I was named, was a short, strong woman of girth and gravitas, who I remember as a black-clad refuge from all the ills in the world. She was born in mid-crossing between Marseilles (which had no interest in refugee Lebanese) and the Lebanese colony in the Yucatan, Mexico, and like most people of Middle Eastern descent her preferred method of answering a question was with a story.The stories were as old as the Phoenician culture itself — they are the font of the Thousand and One Nights — and communicated everything stories are meant to communicate: culture, morality, expectations, ethics, right behavior, the whole thing. When Abuelita answered a simple question with a long tale, it was best to listen. The moral came at the end, but the moral also came along the way, and the moral was also that it was always best to sit quietly and listen when wisdom was being handed down.
Here is one of Abuelita’s stories, gently brought forward into the 21st century, with particular application to me, today.
The Genie in the Bottle
A genie found himself confined in a bottle. Whether he deserved to be there or not is irrelevant; he was in that bottle and there he would stay until someone let him out.
For the first hundred years the genie was full of fury, and promised that whoever let him out would be rewarded with endless wealth, while the genie himself would visit retribution against whoever had locked in him the bottle. Nobody came.
For the second hundred years, the genie became contrite and examined his life, determined to root out the flaws in his character and be a better being henceforward. He promised that whoever let him out would have three wishes and that the genie would make sure that those wishes brought only good and happiness. Nobody came.
For the third hundred years, the genie tried to accept his fate. He no longer blustered or threatened; he no longer examined his life or made promises about the future. He sat quietly in his porcelain cage, in something approaching a lotus position, and came very close (for a genie) to achieving enlightenment. He realized that he could not affect the past, the future, or the present, and he accepted that when he was released, he would grant his liberator three wishes, setting no conditions on those wishes as he wished no conditions to be set upon himself. Nobody came.
The fourth hundred years, the genie lost all patience. Threats and endless wealth had not worked to release him; contrition, self-knowledge and altruism had not released him; satori and open-handedness had not brought salvation. In his wrath, he vowed that when he was released from the bottle, he would visit such fury upon the world, including his deliverer, as would shatter every bottle between and beyond the heavens and hell itself.
And, finally, someone came.
The moral of this story is: If my f***ing container with all my f***king stuff doesn’t f***ing show up next Friday, as promised, I am going to have a personal discussion with Madame Pele, just two angry old broads face to face, and then we’ll see!