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The Dark Night of the Soul (or How I Spent My Time at the Detroit Airport)

November 16, 2010

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

Yes, it was “One Dark Night.” It was a dark and stormy night … but not where I was. It was a dark and stormy night in Minneapolis – my now unattainable destination.

This was two weeks ago. The storm of the century was battering Minnesota with 60 mph winds and the lowest barometric recordings on record. But I wasn’t in Minnesota. I was in Detroit – at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport – trying to make a connecting flight to Minneapolis. The flight was scheduled to depart at 9:45pm, but when I arrived at the gate the flight had been delayed until 11:30pm. At 11:25pm, we received word that the flight was cancelled, and were directed to the Delta servicing area – approximately 30 gates away – to make arrangements for another flight and staying the night.

I was able to get a seat on a flight departing at 8:30 the next morning. But what should I do about lodging? It was getting close to midnight, leaving the airport would mean coming back two hours before the flight and going through security again, and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with any more hassles. So I decided to stay put. I decided to spend the night in the Detroit Airport.

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

There is within Christianity a tradition of individual souls who seek to meet God directly. These are the Mystics. They stand apart from the tradition of worship within a community of believers approaching God through liturgy and teaching. The mystics seek immediate communion with God – they go to meet God face to face through prayer, fasting, and meditation. Many mystics describe the preparation for going out to meet God as passing through “the Dark Night of the Soul.”

Saint John of the Cross was on such mystic. John was a 16th century Spanish mystic who explored and commented on the Dark Night. According to John, the Dark Night involves the purification of the senses – to meet God directly you first have to close off all of your sensual perceptions and enter into the Dark Night. Only when all of the distractions of the senses have been eliminated is a person in a place where he or she can “see” God.

As a means of teaching on mysticism, John of the Cross scripted a poem on the Dark Night of the Soul.

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

And so I found myself a refugee in the empty and cavernous halls of Terminal A at the Detroit Airport. Empty except for we refugee travelers who would spend the night in those not so hallowed halls.

I found a quiet spot, away from other travelers, and pulled together two rows of airport seats so that I could put my legs up. And while I did not intend to sleep, I was hopeful that I myself could attain the stillness and quiet of the Dark Night of the Soul.

My house being now all stilled …

And then it began

Tap tap tap
Ring ring ring
Squeak squeak squeak

As I sat myself down in my personal row of airport seating, the workers came out of the quiet corners of the terminal. Darkness had settled in and the cleaners where here.

I sat back with my eyes closed. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.

One of the workers was using a broom and dustpan to clean the gate areas. She had one of those dust pans with the long handles that you press on the floor to open the dustpan area. Tap tap tap. I don’t know whether she had been taught this technique or if she had developed it on her own, but she moved around the carpeting and each time she found a piece of debris she tap tap tapped it into the dustpan. She did not sweep things gently into the receptical … No, she banged them in. Over and over – tap tap tap. I watched and listened to her do this – and I watched as she did it around the feet of other sleeping travelers – for over forty-five minutes. Tap tao tap.

Eventually I put on my headphones, listened to some music, and closed my eyes to relax. My house being now all stilled. I began to enter into the Dark Night. My house being now all stilled.

Ring ring ring

At 2:05am alarms began to ring. The loud repeating klaxon of fire alrms were blaring all over the terminal. Then a large door was lowered to close off the section of terminal I was sitting in from the neighboring section. Five minutes later the alarms stopped and the door was retracted. Alll was quiet again. My eyes were heavy and the dark night was approaching. Ring ring ring! At 2:12am alarms began to ring again. The door dropped down from the ceiling again. The alarms sounded for another five minutes. And then quiet returned. Ring ring ring!! This process was repeated every five – six minutes until 3:00am.

The cleaning crews continued their work, talked to one another, and ignored the noise. They even passed from one portion of the terminal to the other during the intervals when the door was raised. It was business as usual.

And then my eyes grew heavy again. My house being all now stilled I continued my journey towards the Dark Night.

Squeak squeak squeak. Squeak squeak squeak. This sound started to repeat in my ears. Not loud, but very distinct. A high-pitched squeak like a squeegee on a wet window. I looked around, but saw no one cleaning windows. Over in the center of the concourse was a maintenance man cleaning the floors. He had a large floor cleaning machine that looked like a small zamboni. A large and expensive piece of technological wizardry designed to clean smooth surfaces. But that was not the source of the squeaking. No. the man had just gone over a section of floor with the mini zamboni and now he had climbed down from it and was going back to get marks that the machine had missed. What tool do you use when your $40,000 mini zamboni isn’t good enough? A tennis ball taped to the end of a pole. He squeaked the tennis ball over the remaining marks on the floor. Squeak squeak squeak.

I gave up all hope of achieving the Dark Night of the Soul. My mystical powers are no match for the quirks and noises of the Detroit Airport. I abandoned the Dark Night and instead gave myself over to the intolerable depths of hell.

But eventually that night in hell came to an end. I boarded an airplane the next morning, flew to Minneapolis, found my car, drove home, and sought the sanctuary of my very own bed.

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

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