Not So Small Miacles
Whether we are on the far side of the world or nestled comfortably at home, our days are full of little miracles —celestial graces that facilitate or adorn our lives and remind us that God is always present. One of the reasons that I like to travel is that when I am struggling to navigate life under unfamiliar circumstances, I notice His interventions more readily and see them more clearly for what they are: divine touches into my ordinary terrestrial existence.
Aspen and I had a lovely time in the Middle East--wonderful both because of the magic of traveling in unknown and unimagined places and because of the gift of spending extended time exploring with my daughter. Our adventures, both the planned and the unexpected, were better because we were together. That doesn’t mean we were always of like mind. On our first day in the bustling city of Istanbul, with shopkeepers trying to engage us on all sides (which was a bit intimidating at first), Aspen declared, “I don’t talk to anyone.” I countered, “Aspen, I talk to everyone.” That required the first of many compromises as we learned to adapt our styles and habits to accommodate each other.
The trip, however, began with a bit of a mishap that required both of us to adjust to the common complications of international travel.
On our way to Istanbul, we were scheduled to change planes in Amsterdam with only an hour on the ground. It was a dash across the airport, but we made it; our luggage didn't. That was neither a huge nor an unusual problem—airlines deal with lost luggage every day. We filled out the paperwork, and Turkish Air promised to bring our belongings to our Airbnb the next day. Since we each had a toothbrush and spare clothes in our carryon backpacks, we weren’t too fussed. We got on the bus for the 90-minute ride into the city with pretty good confidence of seeing our suitcases again.
The bus dropped us in the middle of the Old City where the GPS on Aspen’s phone predicted a mile and a half hike to where we were staying. As we walked, the streets got narrower and more deserted. It was getting dark, and our surroundings looked sketchier and sketchier. The coordinates (addresses in the Middle East proved to be insufficient most of the time) combined with two pages of written directions, and the photographs our host had posted on the Airbnb site finally took us up a narrow street (an alley by any American standards), then turned us into a narrower alley where we found an industrial metal door with a keypad lock. Inside was a courtyard that doubled as extra seating for a little restaurant in the early mornings and as a salvage yard the rest of the day. We crossed to the back of the courtyard to find another door with a keypad lock. Inside we were met by the Airbnb host who took us up a very narrow winding staircase to the third floor and unlocked our room. It was small, but big enough, and it had a hotplate and little fridge so Aspen could cook once we re-acquired our luggage containing the food she had brought and her frying pan (because of her food allergies, she can rarely eat in restaurants).
The host tried to explain the particulars of the place to us in Turkish, but we weren't communicating well. Finally, he decided to try writing something down to help us understand and asked me to hand him the pen on the table. It turns out that the word for pen in Turkish is the same as in Russian. My ear heard it and, without thinking, I responded to the familiar word. I realized what I had done and felt a little silly. I started to apologize, but the man said, "Oh, Russian. Da." He switched to Russian, and we did just fine. It surprised both Aspen and I; I hadn't expected my Russian to be valuable in Turkey at all.
After he left, we realized that the airline would never find us in this side alley behind three locked doors. We tried to call, but couldn't get past the phone tree, so we hoped they would call us when they found they couldn't deliver. We hung around the next morning, but never heard from them. The following day, we got up early and retraced our path to the airport where we were passed from person to person to person (seven in all, I think) before our cause was taken up by a very young attendant who seemed to know where our luggage was. He was a cheerful fellow who sang to himself as he led us around twists and turns through the bowels of the Istanbul Airport to where he finally reunited us with our bags--and Aspen's frying pan. Success!
That was the first miracle of the day, but a second was coming.
That afternoon, after about six miles of oohing and ahhhing over the sights of Istanbul, Aspen and I sat down to rest on a wall in the corner of a courtyard between two of the city’s most famous mosques. It was filled with tourists. When I say “filled” I mean it looked like a street festival in Denver. We discussed where to go next and then headed down the street toward the Golden Horn (the horn-shaped harbor that has enriched Istanbul with maritime trade throughout the Greek, Roman, Byzantines, and Ottoman eras). About a mile later, I stopped to use a WC (public restroom) and realized that I didn’t have my cell phone. Immediately, we reversed our steps and headed back for the crowded courtyard. As we climbed the hill, I prayed for Good Samaritans to find my phone and for us to somehow find them.
On returning to our resting place, we (not surprisingly) found no phone. However, an officer in a police tent across the way noticed us searching and asked (in English!) if we were looking for a phone. When I described it, he showed me a picture on his phone that displayed all the contents of my phone case: Colorado driver’s license, Visa card, 110 Lira (Turkish currency) and a $20 bill (US). He then led us across the park and in the back way to the police station, where we met three officers trying to jailbreak my phone with a paperclip so that they could find my contact information. I think they were almost as excited to find me and return it as I was relieved to receive it back. God truly had provided very official-looking Good Samaritans. They were all amazed that among the thousands of tourists there, we had managed to find each other so they could return the phone to the right person. One of them pointed up and said it could only have been God. I couldn’t have agreed more.
And so, thanks to God’s miraculous touch and several kind and conscientious Turkish policemen, we continued our trip without the disaster of canceling phones and credit cards and then doing without them in a strange country. I also have, among my stories of visiting Istanbul, an experience that is recommended in none of the tourist literature: filling out a Turkish police report. What can I say but, “Thanks be to God!”
Grace and Peace