Prayer Is Important. But So Are People

On the bus this morning as Jerusalem wakes up: There’s a young woman murmuring psalms beside me. Her head is bent into the small blue book she holds in trembling hands.

The bus lurches to a stop, and another woman with silver hair and a face etched in history stumbles in the aisle.

“How close to the shuk are we?” she asks me while she leans on a walker.

I look up from Whatsapp- it’s morning here, and evening in California, so I’m in two places at once… I look out the window into Jerusalem, into the morning,  but I have no idea where we are.

(I know the bus stop on Kanfei Nesharim and the one by the old train station, and that’s it. I know the bumps, but not the stops, the people, but not the places.)

“I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

So, she asks again, this time to the woman bent in prayer.

And this time, with more urgency — because the bus is rumbling around through traffic, and wherever she’s going, it matters to her, and you can see it in the jut of her jaw, her pupils large.

“Do you know where the shuk is?” she asks. “Is this the right stop?”

“SHH!” The woman beside me hisses while she lifts a finger from the book and shakes it in front of a woman who has lived twice as long as she. “Shh! I’m in the middle of prayer.”

The bus lurches, the woman stumbles.

And my heart, too. For yes, prayer is important: It connects us with God and with the shining core of godliness within us.  Yes, prayer is important: It has carried us through the years, through days of mourning, and days of celebration, together.  Yes, prayer is important:    But so are people.  And what’s the blessed point of prayer if we can’t reach across the aisle to one another to create a sense of wholeness?