I haven’t had much to say in awhile, but today, when I mistakenly interrupted a man praying, I realized I have much more to say than I typically give myself credit.
It was after school, and as any teacher rightly knows, you sprint toward the closest restroom. In this case it is located in the teacher’s lounge, which has a male and female staff restroom off its main lounge area. When I brisked through the door, he greeted me, at that point a man, perhaps a tutor, I thought, taking off his shoes, which I assumed were wet boots. I went about my business as quick as anyone does holding in an entire day’s beverages for a 6 hour time frame including a 1/2 gallon of water and two cups of coffee, venti size.
When I emerged into our shared lounge he apologized. “You see, I have to pray here,” he nodded, gesturing toward the corner off to the farthest side of the lounge space where he had lined strips of brown paper towel, industrial strength as any custodian or school attendant recognizes, into a sort of rectangle on the linoleum floor. It took me a moment to comprehend the situation, and his comment threw me off guard. Where were his wet boots, I asked myself, now noticing they were not boots but shoes that he was making sure would not tear his makeshift prayer rug.
I was transfixed, but taken to a point sometime in the last ten years of motherhood, when I, too, made due. Immediately I recalled the time when I was in a third world airport, on hands and knees, not praying, but looking for an outlet so I could pump before boarding a plane since my baby had already eaten and I was due for a six hour flight. I recalled sitting on the floor of that dirty airport, asking both my eldest kids to cover me like some secret agent sniper while I huddled under a plastic airport lounge chair to hide away and plug in since there were no outlets in the bathroom. I remembered the father who drove two hours to our house to pick-up frozen milk I had stored and donated to him because his sick twin babies would spit up any kind of formula and were not gaining weight and his wife could not pump enough, let alone, produce enough, for two ravenous newborns. I was taken into another airport family bathroom where I found an outlet and peacefully pumped away, this time traveling alone, trying to save milk to give my baby when I returned, and an angry knock interrupted me not once, but three times. Turns out it was a young airport worker who wanted to “freshen up” in the family restroom and gave me attitude because I had no children with me. Another dirty bathroom image entered-this time a Mexican restaurant where I dutifully nursed a newborn and was a new momma, too naive to tell the table my baby needed to eat and deserved a right to be seated alongside them. At that point I imagined the prayerful man probably thought I was staring at him out of curiosity, but my ego got the best of me yet again.
He did not notice, too devoted to his duty, and instantly I felt connected to him on a level some would not understand. So I offered him a yoga mat. In fact, I interrupted him praying to offer, twice. I had no idea how one prayed. Many times I had visited the local mosque when one of our students asked me to tag along and learn, or a relative of theirs passed and was having a service, but I had no idea how long an actual prayer lasted. So I watched the bending and bowing then interrupted again with, “Do you want a mat?” He kept on, focusing his faith. Shaking my head at my nasty ego, not him, I hastened to exit the lounge into the hallway.
Moments later I heard a door shut and a, “Miss? Miss!” I turned around, walking back toward the doorway where he profusely apologized and said, “I can’t interrupt my prayers, I am sorry.” I nodded, knowing. “I have a mat if you’d like,” I stated again, the final time. “This will do,” he said, smiling, no shame in his damp paper towel rug because it was not about that at all. I smiled back knowing that it would do. It always does. Just as Charlie and the Parisians continue to make due with a tearful Mohammed, or as a family in Otisville continues to hope for the safety of their son and friend in a state of unknowing, just as Allah and God will do, and just as I will do. If it is worth it, and we care enough, we find a way. The question is, what will you do that is worth it, to you?