Praying (They Don’t Think I’m Gonna Blow Them Up)

I’m reporting to you live on location from the airport lobby. At 6:00 AM, the place gleams with a shine usually reserved for window-washing commercials and baby’s backsides. Even when it’s hygienic, it still has that suspicious airport smell. I couldn’t tell you why. I think it’s just part of the way G*d created the world.

Anyway, it’s not 6:00 AM anymore. It’s a little past 9, and the place is a lot more filled and a lot less gleamy. And I’m in Terminal 5, the JetBlue terminal, instead of Delta, where my flight is, because people who fly JetBlue look less gloomy and because there is free (and non-hiccupy) internet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

matthue roth with airportWe arrived at the airport and checked in at 6:02 AM. Turns out, Delta instituted a new policy — YESTERDAY — that you can’t check in baggage less than an hour before a flight. Need I say that our flight was at 7:01? So the rest of the fam ran ahead, and I hung back to be the proud defender of our baggage.

And to try and scrounge for another seat. Now, I have anxiety issues. At 7:00, there was a flight that they couldn’t get me on because they tried too late. At 7:45, same thing. Eventually, it was 8:30, I still didn’t have a ticket, and I was getting dangerously aware that the latest time I could possibly pray was rapidly creeping up.

So what’s a boy to do? What, indeed, except go and throw the politest, most courteous s#!+-fit that he could. And smile politely afterward and explain that he needs a ticket.

Sometimes, all you need to know is how to speak the language. Not more than five minutes later, ticket in hand, I sat, confident and assured that I still had nearly six hours to kill before my flight, and unwrapped my talis and start to pray.

This was the point where I noticed something was amiss. People were staring at me. And not in that hey-didn’t-you-write-a-book-I-read way.

I started swaying into the prayers, trying politely to ignore it. Then I took out my tefillin and started wrapping the black straps around my arm.

That was when they started looking at me like I was about to blow something up.

It’s pretty understandable, actually. I mean, I have nervous and paranoid fantasies all the time. I’m always thinking in terms of a worst-case scenario. (Like, for instance, whenever we’re headed for an airport, I just know we’re going to miss our flight. Totally baseless, and it never actually happens…whoops.) When some dude who looks like an alien with upside-down antennae covers himself in a white cloth and begins wrapping possible-dynamite-but-it’s-actually-leather around himself, there aren’t too many things that it could be.

And so, if I saw myself praying in an airport, I’d probably think something was up with that, too.

I tried to ignore it. I couldn’t, of course, but I had a script in front of me in the shape of a prayerbook, and I just tried to do the best that I could.

And then I turned — as I often do — to Lost. Itta’s been watching the whole series nonstop, and last night, in the middle of a stakeout (in a boat, watching for signs of the evil people who might not be evil…oh, never mind), one of the characters — Sayid, the former Iraqi soldier turned US spy — whipped out his prayer mat and started praying.

It was so nonchalant, and so much a non-event, that it almost seemed natural. The same way that the characters on Friends were always running to and from each other’s apartments without knocking, or that a good friend uses the bathroom in your house without asking where it is, Sayid just took five minutes to do his Allahu Akbars.

matthue does his allahusSo I did the same thing. Just straightened my posture, straightened my concentration, and started to pray. I don’t know if anyone noticed — anyone but myself, that is — but I kind of got it going on. And I came out of it a little out of breath, a little sweaty (it is an airport, after all), but feeling pretty exhilarated. And it was the best praying I’ve had in a while. No one came up to me to compliment me on my praying skillz, but by the time I was done, I really thought they might.

And, by the way: JetBlue is not always the cheeriest terminal around. For the past 15 minutes, they’ve been playing all of George Michael’s most heart-wrenching synth ballads. And I’m not even supposed to be listening to music in the first place.

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