Brussels, Islam and one long, memorable night

Jim Cosgrove and his daughters
Jim Cosgrove and his daughters

Like so many tragedies, the attacks in Brussels last week became a teachable moment about fear and trust, and how we can’t condemn an entire race or religion based on the extreme acts of a few.

This time I had a personal tale to share with my kids about one of the most memorable nights of my life.

About three weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I embarked on a tour to perform at schools on U.S. military bases in Europe. It was a tense and frightening time for the whole world and an especially uncertain climate for military families getting ready for deployment.

Around midnight one Sunday, I stepped off a train in Brussels to find a nearly deserted station. I had to make it to an airport about 40 miles from there to catch a flight to Italy early the next morning, but there were no buses or trains running at that hour.

I was approached by a lone cab driver named Muhammad who said he could take me there, but since it was so far and would take nearly an hour, he would charge me $100. I had no other option.

After he took me by an ATM to get some cash, I settled into the front seat next to him and we set off into the damp night.

There we were, two strangers, a Middle Eastern Muslim and an American Christian, with the raw emotion of the most horrific terrorist attack in either of our lifetimes shrouded around us. We exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes to get a feel for where each of us stood.

Then Muhammad skillfully and sincerely addressed the proverbial elephant by saying, “I am deeply saddened and outraged by the attacks on your people. I too am saddened and outraged that it was Muslims who did this. I hope you know that this is not what we believe.”

I thanked him and assured him that I harbored no anger toward him or Muslims in general. I could hear the relief in his voice as he relaxed and told me about his wife and three children and how he came to Europe from Jordan to find a better life for his family.

We talked about politics and religion and peace and how crazy people get in this world and how we all just need to trust and respect each other.

By the time we arrived, it was nearly 2 in the morning and the airport was closed. I paid Muhammad and thanked him for the ride. He asked if I’d be all right waiting outside. I told him I’d slept in worse conditions, and I gathered my guitar and backpack and stretched out on a bench out front. I covered myself as best as I could with my rain jacket to ward off the chilly mist. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t get comfortable.

After about 10 minutes on the bench, I saw headlights coming around the circle drive. The car stopped in front of my bench and the window rolled down. It was Muhammad.

“I decided that I couldn’t just leave you out here in the cold,” he said. “Come on, get in. Let me take you somewhere warm and buy you a beer.”

So we drove to a nearby American sports bar that was open until 3. We each had a beer. Although I can’t remember everything we talked about, I just know that it felt like I was hanging out with an old friend. That night renewed my hope for humanity.

I have thought about Muhammad hundreds of times since that night. And I kick myself for not getting his address. I wonder how he and his family are doing and if he’s still driving a cab and rescuing people in the middle of the night. I wonder if he ever thinks of me.

Someday I would love to track him down and get our families together. I want him to know that his generosity and compassion left a lasting impression on me.

To reach freelancer Jim Cosgrove, aka children’s entertainer Mr. Stinky Feet, send email to