Sunday, March 11, 2018

One Southern Sunday

As I exit the gangway, the humid air of Atlanta’s atmosphere descends upon my face. This swampy Southern atmosphere is a wildly different ecosystem than the frigid North I left. Cigarette smoke wafts out of the open door of the smoking lounge and tints the atmosphere with nicotine smut.

The bathroom signs are lit up blue for boys and pink for girls, a vestige of a simple gender symbolism which even little Minnesota me finds jarring.

Replacing the tarry cloud of cigarettes, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen pours the rich perfume of fried chicken into the concourse. The warm, crisp aroma brings a smile to my face. I lick my lips, trying to capture the scent which wreaths through the air.

If ya’ll don’t have it, don’t worry about it
Yer dayumn right.
Now ain’t that
The chorus of Southern language floats by me.

A shoeshine stand is cavernously empty. A man rests in the chair, soaking up the small air conditioning.

Everyone is walking at a languorous speed unknown to any Manhattan entity but the paint drying on the brownstone walls.

But the high speed train which runs between the concourses rushes like the subway on express. To step inside is to step into a higher speed of efficiency and a blast of freezing air-conditioning. An extreme reaction to the heavy heat outside.

The escalator advertisement cautions against wildlife crime, a clear sign this airport receives the global south, as the wildlife in Chicago are no more exotic than raccoons. The multilingual signs lend the airport a more international flair than most monoglot Midwestern terminals.

I try to read the Arabic words for “baggage claim” before they are replaced by Mandarin and Korean scripts. This morning, the Uber driver met my parting “shukran” with a reflexive “afwan,” and I thought of how this is language is supposed to function. A way of interacting with the world which is raw and pure, which is not problematized by translation. To learn a new language is to learn a different person’s mode of interaction with the world.

In the airport, you begin to expect new languages, so I begin to speak in a strange patois of English. Proper grammar is too unwieldy to be the lingua franca of the common markets of international exchange, so I begin to speak in fragments.

A lost man stares up at the sign for the women’s bathroom, looking for its counterpart. He stands opposite it, as it challenges him, Oedipus meeting the challenge of the Sphinx. I gesture towards the right:
I think, that way. Meeting his thoughts mid sentence, dropping the object of the sentence or any proper predicate, but still imagining my communication effective.

I think, that way. 

I sit down at the gate, next to a priest who is traveling to the Vatican. Small phrases of Italian are sprinkled around the terminal, and there are a few Brooklyn accents.

A boy has Scooby-Snack graham crackers in a Publix bag attached to his backpack as he travels with his nonna and papa. His skinny legs rise out of boat-like shoes.

I stop in the Interfaith Chapel, which is behind a large display case of Martin Luther King artifacts. It is bumping in the Interfaith Chapel this Sunday. Two women and a man pray in front of an enlarged image of the airport symbol of a person praying, framed by colorful mosaic tile—a self-referencing icon. There are a few bibles on the shelf above some prayer rugs. I pick up the King James New Testament in the back quickly for a word of inspiration. I open to Acts 23, in the thick of Paul’s adventures. A man appears at my elbow, also paying his respects to an unnamed God in this chapel-which-is-not-a-church.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? asks the irascible nun in the book I’m reading.

Yes, I reply to the silent pages of the book. Because spaces such as these become sanctified by nothing more than the faith of those who enter them.

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