LAX Terminal 5

Thirty years ago as a freshman in college, I read Mircea Eliade’s book, The Sacred and The Profane. While I won’t try to summarize the book here, its central thesis is that the core of all religions is highlighting and maintaining the distinction between what is sacred and what is profane.  I still remember writing a freshman class paper on that topic, identifying various worldwide sights that had been “sacred” for multiple religions.  Examples included Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, originally a Byzantine cathedral that was transformed into a Muslim mosque, and the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, originally built as Hindu shrines then transforming themselves into Buddhist temples.

Whether we think about sacred spaces as such grand historic models, or as a simple neighborhood church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, I have always thought of sacred spaces as unique places apart from the daily grind.  For me, there is a chapel at Emory University that stands out, having been the site of my wedding, the wedding of my sister-in-law, the christening of my two children, and the memorial service for another sister-in-law.  There is nothing about that physical space that I find “sacred,” yet every time I enter the chapel I am overwhelmed by the memories and experiences, the smiles and the tears, and the heartbreak and the joy.

It’s with this background in mind that I fast forward to a recent trip to Los Angeles.  I have been working a lot in Southern California recently and flying regularly through LAX.  On a recent trip, I was at the gate with some time on my hands, waiting to board the flight back home to Atlanta.  In typical fashion, I had my I-Pod on, listening to random songs on a playlist, and writing a draft for a blog entry.  The first song that came on was Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt,” which instantly reminded me of my friend Bruce.  I remembered sitting by his hospice bed before he died this summer, talking about music and him telling me about this specific song.  The next song that came up on the random shuffle was Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah,” the song that was played at the graveside of my sister-in-law Carrie.  It was just down the hall here in a men’s room in LAX’s terminal 5, after helping to clean out Carrie’s apartment after her death, that I changed out of my cleaning clothes and threw them away in the trash bin.

After those two songs, my blog writing had ceased, and I was waiting for what song might be next.  It came from the Indigo Girls, with my sister-in-law and band member Emily singing  “I’ll Change.”   It was a song that I played for Bruce this past spring – in the final chorus of his life – on a ride through the Wisconsin countryside.  It was at this moment, sitting by gate 59B, that I broke down and began to weep.

Without a word, an older woman sitting a few chairs away reached into her handbag, drew out a pack of tissues, reached over to me and mouthed the words, “Keep it, it’s yours.”

A simple act of kindness to a stranger, offered with grace, received with tears.

I understood then that somehow LAX’s terminal 5 had become “sacred” for me.  Through some amazing combination of random song selections, road weariness, and the kindness of a stranger, I became aware of what this otherwise “profane” place means to me. I’m certainly not suggesting for you to head to LAX’s terminal 5 to seek inspiration.  The walk down the central hall, past McDonald’s, a bookstore and a coffee shop, likely would come off rather generically…just another airport terminal.

What I am suggesting is that for me, that spot has taken on greater meaning.  For me, that hallway, those seats, the one specific men’s room, all evoke a set of memories and feelings that I find truly powerful.  My encouragement is to find the LAX terminal 5 in your life.  Look beyond the historic definitions of “sacred” or “inspirational” spaces and look into your life and history.  Find those spots, those unusual yet everyday locations, that allow you to be connected to your feelings, your experiences, your history, and maybe most importantly, to those who you love or have loved.

I am certain that Eliade was not referring to LAX when he wrote, “the religious symbol translates a human situation into cosmological terms and vice versa …. This means that man does not feel himself ’isolated’ in the cosmos.”  Look for your LAX terminal 5 as a way to allow yourself to be connected to, rather than isolated from, the world and the cosmos.