As I sat there, smelling of one long sunny day, of goodbyes to new chaplain friends, and of walks around Cambridge where I ducked into a comic store for the oldest boy and a used bookstore for the youngest and for me, I took a deep breath.
The lobster roll I ate left me a long time ago by then, but I wasn’t hungry because I had a completely unappetizing salad in a train station where I met a train-taking friend who was on her way to receive an award for her justice work in the world.
After two buses and a train ride from Boston to Providence, a brief interview from a police officer, and a search to find an outlet in an atrium that had only one, I sat in the hard-backed chair sitting across from a Southwest sign. The blue, orange, and yellow was like the brightness of the day turning into an evening of quiet.
The airport security area was behind me, the sign ahead. Nothing was moving. Conveyors were belted into silence. Lights and sirens dulled into repose. No one walked except the occasional environmental service worker.
One man who, like me, had his flight canceled, lay out his golf bag and pulled a pillow from his suitcase. I was determined to sit in the chair overnight. It felt like a small failure when looked to the floor and said without words, “I think I’m coming down there.”
I didn’t want to be the guy who slept on the airport floor. I chuckled to myself. It was perfect and terrible. I had never done that before. I had people in Boston, people who later reminded me that I had people in Boston.
I was and am blessed that I pretty much don’t travel anywhere in the US where I can’t call people who live within 2-3 hours of me, people who care enough to retrieve me from my stinky, stuck position after lugging luggage and trying to get home. I didn’t want to be that sleeping guy but I was.
l opened my luggage and pulled my black hoodie, the one I packed in case I got cold during the research conference. Hadn’t worn it yet. Perfectly folded, it was wear I put it, like it was waiting to be called into service. I zipped it up over my white polo and lay on that floor.
I didn’t really sleep. I’m from the south side of Chicago. Instead of sleeping, I put my leg across my luggage and dozed while forming fists and blinking each time I heard footsteps on the muffled carpet.
I was a long way from Marsh Chapel where I sat each day of the week, listening to the quiet, imagining what Howard Thurman did in that space, envisioning how students and ministers and others came there to sit, to wait, to hear, and to rest. I had been in Marsh Chapel but the airport wasn’t the chapel.
I would even go into an airport chapel during that upcoming thirty-hour trek to return home where I’d find a dark and equally quiet Chicago on a Saturday night. Returning would be like moving from Marsh Chapel, where one of my spiritual heroes did his work, to the airport, where I’d wait and wonder and get into new postures that surprised me and taught me how to return.
I was a long way from Marsh Chapel, and then I wasn’t.