We were sitting on the patio under a black, moonless sky, our faces lit by the flickering light of a few candles in the center of a large stone table. We all had iced drinks in our hands or in front of us. His interruption took the form of very slowly putting down the glass that was in his hand - so slowly and so quietly, and with such a measured, even movement that at first it seemed like some kind of ritual gesture. Everyone suddenly became quiet and looked at him, waiting. I remember listening for a long time to the waves of the bay and watching the lights of San Francisco across the water. The wind was shifting and turning cool. People were putting their collars up and hugging themselves, but no one dared get up. Foghorns were answering each other like far-off, unseen sea creatures.
Just as slowly and evenly, he angled his long, lean body back in his chair and gazed at nothing in particular. Then he turned his head as though it were a gun turret and looked directly at the husky, bearded young man who had just been speaking about the crimes of America. In the flickering candlelight, his bony face seemed wondrously alive and menacing at the same time. What he said to the young man - and of course to all of us present - was only this:
"You don't know what you have here." Then, after an uncomfortable pause, "You simply don't know what you have."
- From The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders by Jacob Needleman
[Photo by Max Sulik at Unsplash]