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Looking for faith at Heathrow Airport

The universal sweet and simple desire of fellow travelers to be safe in the world and make it back home

I had 30 minutes left before my flight out of Heathrow and it was a choice between Starbucks and checking out the interfaith chapel.

I had just read the news about Florida — coming off the news of Germany. And France. Turkey. And Florida again. And Belgium. And Kenya. And Bangladesh. And Israel. And and and and … And every little pocket on our beautiful planet full to bursting with so much pain.

I needed to feel safe so bad that moment. I needed to feel safe because the worst part is I’ve reached that miserable little place where these shootings and bombings and machete attacks no longer surprise me.

They sicken me. They make me cringe. But I am no longer shocked.

Check the weather, check the stocks, check where the latest atrocity has occurred, hit refresh and see if there’s another.

Sometimes there is.

Sometimes there isn’t

But it’s a tragedy still that I’ve come to expect it.

So I needed a little more faith — not just in the universe, but in her people. But….I also needed my vanilla latte. I had beenĀ up for nearly 24 hours already, and Exhaustion 23, Sarah 0, so I chose an extra shot of heaven in a cup….. Until I saw the unholy line of weary travelers snaking around the terminal to get their venti lattes, too.

So I chose prayer instead.

(Besides, I still had some cinnamon whiskey in my flask.)

I almost missed the door to the chapel because it looked just like the door to the toilets — I walked past, then turned around, and walked back.

Sometimes God makes you work for it.

“PUSH” the sign read.

I pushed.

The room was small and there was a sign welcoming all travelers and airport personnel, from all walks of life from all faith and background.

There were dozens of symbols around a picture of the globe. Our globe. I recognized some — like the cross and the crescent moon and the yin-yang and the pentacle and the Star of David and the Om and even a chamsa…. But not all.

There was a man and a woman each on opposite ends of the room on different prayer rugs. Blue for him and mauve for her. They sat up at the same moment and then bowed down in the same breath, their foreheads touched the floor together.

I sat in my own little pocket, also on the floor. I folded my legs and put the palms of my hands together.

The space is meant for prayer — not sleeping or eating or drinking or using the phone, but God and I do best with a good soundtrack and I was listening to my favorite version of Ana B’Koach while I sat there on the floor.

“We beg thee with the strength and greatness of thy right arm- Untangle our knotted fate.”

And that’s when I started crying.

Not the ugly cry the last time my heart got smashed, or the primal wail when my mother died. Not even the wash of every hope and every fear when my daughter was born.

This was different — both mightier and gentler, it just poured out of me. It was so, so big — each breath a fresh tide of tears spilling over my lashes and down my cheeks.

Like earth and silt and sweet water, too.

I sat there and cried there on the floor silently while the music swelled in my ears. It just all felt so big — more frightened families in so many places, more children to bury, our darkest fears validated… All of it so much in this airport, packed with people coming and going.

I just felt.

The two Muslim worshipers got up, rolled up their rugs and left. The woman smiled at me as she walked past.

And I stayed there sobbing — still with no sound, my cheeks soaked and shining in that little room with the fluorescent light, my passports next to me, my bag just to my left.

The thing about strange airports is the people you may meet you’ll never see again unless the universe wrinkles and it’s meant to be. So it doesn’t matter that you’re there crying on the floor. No one knows your name or follows you on Twitter or knows who you work for or who you kiss or who your children are or what’s in your suitcase or the deepest places of your heart.

You’re only you — stripped down to the basics — woman in her 30s with blonde hair and shadowed eyes, torn jeans and brown boots and loose grey tank top weeping on the floor.

Unsolved, unless you choose to share and let others in.

The door opened and a man with glasses and a neon maintenance vest with a large silver cross around his neck walked in. I could see his lips moving, so I took out one of my ear buds.

“Are you alright?” He asked as he sat down next to me.

“Yes. And no.” I told him. He hadn’t heard about Florida. So I told him that, too.

“I’m from Israel,” I said sharing something beneath my basics. “And it’s been a really rough year.”

He nodded and we sat in silence.

“Do you know what I like about working here?” he said. “London is this wonderful microcosm of different people and different faith. And so many of them work here — oh, you should see it. It’s wonderful. Muslims and Hindus and Christians and Jews and even a pagan or two working together to help people travel from one place to the next, all these wonderful people whose job it is to keep everyone safe. After all, at the end of the day, we all just want to go home, anyway.”

He smiled. “I’ll go meditate now. Safe travels,” he said.

And my tears stopped and I felt the miracle of what he said spread through me, from the tips of my fingers all the way up to my face, for here in this little bare room with its fluorescent light, you could feel that hope for the the oneness of something. Maybe it’s God or maybe the universe, or just that sweet and simple desire to be safe in the world and make it back home.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.