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“It might be possible,” thought Eleazar. “It might just be possible.”
He arose from his chair, shuffled to the fireplace and poked at the glowing logs until they once more crackled into flame.
He picked up the cloth lying on a nearby table, folded it several times and used it to grasp the handle of the pitcher of hot spiced wine sitting on the hearth. “The only drink on a cold night like this,” he smiled to himself as he poured the fragrant mixture into a large goblet.
He moved back to his chair, sat down, took a sip of the wine and felt it warm his insides. He stared into the flames once again, and slowly began to nod his head. The inn was completely quiet; all the lodgers had long since gone to bed. He was alone with his thoughts, and they were quietly exciting.
“Yes,” he said to the empty room, “it might just be possible.”
To be an important man. To be remembered – long after he was gone.
The way most people achieve some measure of immortality, he reflected, was through their children, and he would have been happy with that. A tall son or a handsome daughter who – years after Eleazar had died and gone to the bosom of Abraham – would be pointed out and identified as “the child of Eleazar the innkeeper.
But it was not to be. He and Sara had prayed and hoped for a child, but they were never blessed with one. And when Sara had died two years ago, he thought his last chance to be remembered had died with her.
He smiled thinking of Sara, who had always been amused by his pretensions. “If you really want to be remembered,” she would say, “do someone a kindness. Kindnesses are remembered long after the doer is gone.”
She had been a sweet soul, he thought. And a mistaken one.
Eleazar had since figured out what it took to be seen as important in this world – and to be remembered after you’d left it.
Land. Land and buildings.
Like Zaccheus, who had owned the only grain storehouses in Bethlehem. Zaccheus had been dead for almost five years now, but those storehouses still stood – and people remembered him every time they passed them. That was the way to gain remembrance. And it might be possible for him, Eleazar!
When the decree went out from Caesar Augustus that every man should be enrolled for tax purposes in the city of his lineage, Eleazar hadn’t realized the impact it would have on his own fortunes. But Bethlehem was the city of David, and the descendants of the house and lineage of David had poured into the city – and into his inn. He had doubled his prices, then tripled them, and still the inn stayed full.
Now he had more money than he’d ever had in his life, and he had a plan. He owned the large piece of property behind the inn, and there was nothing on it but an old stable. He would tear down the stable and erect a new, larger inn. The finest inn Bethlehem had ever seen. A building would stand for 50, maybe 100 years. Eleazar’s building.
There was a knock at the door of the inn.
Eleazar set down his wine, rose, walked to the door and opened it. A bearded man, his face and clothing powdery with dust, stood in the doorway. Eleazar could see, just behind the man, a woman wrapped in a long cloak, her shoulder hunched against the cold, sitting on a donkey.
“Good evening,” said the man, in a tired voice. “I am Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth. My wife, Mary, and I have traveled all the way from Galilee, and …”
“I’m sorry,” said Eleazar. “There’s no room at the inn. Nothing at all.” He started to close the door.
“Please!” said the man. “My wife is with child. The baby could be born at any moment! We’d take any sort of shelter.”
Eleazar hesitated, then gazed past the man, at the woman. She looked a great deal like Sara.
And suddenly it was as if he heard Sara’s voice. “Do a kindness …” He stepped through the doorway and gestured toward the corner of the inn.
“There’s a stable behind the building. You can use that if you’d like. I don’t have any extra blankets, but there’s straw, and perhaps you can use your cloaks, or …” The man began to fumble at his belt for a leather purse. Eleazar shook his head. “There’s no charge,” he said. He looked at the woman and grinned. “I don’t charge for stables.”
The man thanked him profusely, picked up the reins of the donkey and began to lead it away. And as they disappeared around the corner of the inn, the woman gazed at Eleazar, inclined her head slightly, and smiled. It was remarkable how much she looked like Sara.
Eleazar continued to stand there for a few moments, marveling at the brightness of the night. He tilted his head back.
There it was – the star. That strange, eerily bright star that had been lighting up the heavens for a remarkable time now. And, at the moment, it seemed to be poised almost directly above the inn.
Eleazar shivered, stepped back inside and closed the door. He was glad to see the fire hadn’t gone out. He returned to his chair, picked up the wind goblet and stared into the flames once more.
Let’s see, he thought, where was I? Oh, yes – The Plan. Clearly, then, the first thing to do was tear down the stable.
No one was ever going to remember a man for owning a stable.
This column first appeared in the Fremont (Calif.) Argus, Dec. 22, 1978.