WASHINGTON -- This is a Once Upon a Time story for Christmas and for all hopeful people everywhere. It is also a simple story -- deceptively so.
It is late autumn 2017, and I am visiting my beloved hometown of Chicago, staying at the lovely old Drake Hotel on Lake Michigan. Friday night I go out in style to a Chicago journalists' dinner, and when I get back to my room, I realize I no longer have my favorite bracelet.
"A bracelet?" you may say derisively (particularly if you are a man). "There are many bracelets in the world."
"But," I would counter, trying not to show my contempt for such shortsightedness, "this is a lovely bracelet. It's a large gold ring with tiny pearls embedded all around." (In fact, though I would not tell you this, it was given to me by an emir when I was covering the Middle East for the Chicago Daily News.)
Three days pass. I try to soldier on. And then ...
I am standing at the front desk of the hotel one morning and a desk clerk gestures to me, his eyes blinking excitedly. He hands me a small note and on it are written, in a careless script, the words: "BRACELET. TAXIDRIVER SAID GHAZI HAS IT. PHONE." And then a number.
Could it be? In this age of disappointment, was there an honest man, a Said, pronounced "Sayeed," who would go to some lengths to return a bracelet in the bumptious world of downtown Chicago taxis to a woman he did not even know?
Maybe. Maybe not.
At any rate, I explain everything to the two doormen, my pals Tim and Bennie, and I leave a reward neatly stuffed into an envelope.
It takes several more days to hook up, so to speak, with Mr. Said, but finally he answers. Good English. Soft voice. Working man. (Could he be like my own father, who ran Geyer's Dairy on the South Side of Chicago and was praised by everyone for his honesty?) But I digress.
Mr. Said and I seal our deal. He will deliver the bracelet the next day, a Sunday. But no sooner had I put the phone down than I realized desperately that neither Tim nor Bennie might be working on Sunday.
So I phone the concierge desk and enlist them in the great search. Fine! One of them goes out immediately, braving that special Chicago wind, to discover that, yes indeed, both Tim and Bennie would be off on Sunday, but Carlos would be there.
The concierge now instructs Carlos to take the lost prize, give Mr. Said his reward, give the bracelet to security, who will then present it pronto to my friend at the desk, who will contact me.
"Ahhh, this will never work," I admonish myself. "Mr. Said will change his mind at the last minute and give the bracelet to his girlfriend. Or Carlos will step away from the front door for just a moment and someone else will step in and snatch my treasure from the Persian Gulf. End of story." I sigh.
(Pause for intermission.)
Now the music of life quickens. The bracelet appears almost as on cue, goes from Carlos to security to the front desk and into my waiting hands! I vow to myself never to wear it again -- no, not ever in my entire lifetime -- but to hide it safely back in a closet.
I would like to tell you more about Mr. Said from Pakistan, but I was not able to locate him again. I do know three important things, however:
-- I know that Mr. Said is that too-rare thing today: a dependably honest man.
-- I know that his small act of kindness turned out to be an inspiration for my various friends in Chicago and Washington because it told us something important about our nation and about the truths underlying our moral teachings, ones that we have been so sadly neglecting.
-- And I also know that such honesty, simply expected in my youth, is still there, waiting quietly, and when let free, it can be almost as thrilling as the Christmas message itself.
There is no question in my mind that the basis of most of our problems -- as an example, think of corrupt bankers and shady hedge fund operators on Wall Street -- is profound dishonesty, a poison that eats away at every human connection, whether it be Bernie Madoff, Vladimir Putin ... or Judas Iscariot.
So, thank you, Mr. Said, wherever you are and whoever you really are. You've not only shown us what upright men do without thinking, but you've reminded us how much we need and crave your example.