7 a.m. I’m standing in line for coffee in the hotel lobby. This is no ordinary lobby. A cathedral ceiling soars to the second story. A couple of birds, I don’t know what kind, little brown birds, sit on the beams watching, every half minute tweeting a critique that I imagine says: look at all those addicts waiting in line for their caffeine fix.
At one end of the room a massive wall of glass frames a panorama captured on canvas, and postcards, and digital film countless times. The window glass is dusty, pocked with dried raindrops. But it does not dampen the view. The scene is like an IMAX film. I feel the vertigo. It sails across the green of Willow Flats to those jagged masterpieces of volcanic activity, the Grand Tetons. I feel the religion emanating like heat from the peaks.
I was raised Catholic. Believing it was the right thing to do, my parents dragged us to church on Sundays without much enthusiasm. Their parents had performed the same tired ritual. One of my great aunts was a nun, but I didn’t know her. I met her once or twice at a family gathering, but I was too young to do anything other than stare at her outfit. Dutifully, my parents sent their first three daughters to Catholic school.
Sadistic nuns administered my elementary school. A little known fact about Catholic nuns: they are mind readers. Anyone whose thoughts veered toward speaking in class had her ponytail yanked to the level of whiplash, or his shoulder tweaked by the Vulcan death grip until he slid off his chair, and under the desk.
Catholic high school, slightly more tolerant, was still strict enough to require pleated skirts of a length that grazed the floor when you kneeled upon it. Walking to class it was not uncommon to discover a girl kneeling in the middle of the hall, a sister bent at the waist to examine the length of a rolled up skirt.
This is my history as I gawk, wide-eyed at the mountains older than any of the nuns that heaped abuse under the guise of discipline, and the direction of young minds toward a healthy fear of Hell and God’s wrath. Seeing the Tetons, and the specks in the distance that I know are elk make me think that maybe there is a god after all. A positive force, not the punitive entity I was taught assembled us out of his image and likeness.
Ahead of me in line is a woman holding a leash. At the end of the leash is a toddler sitting cross-legged on the floor paging through a Good Dog, Carl picture book. Her mother is paging through her Facebook timeline on an iPhone. I look over her shoulder to see photos of breakfast muffins and fettuccine Alfredo, cat memes, a split screen of Donald Trump and an orangutan. What’s missing are the stories of migrants flowing like sea water into Europe. Of children not on leashes drowning in the Adriatic. The mother flicks her thumb and the images fly. She does not click on any link.
I love Carl. He really is a good dog. I would have liked to sit next to the girl-child on the floor, and have her read to me. Instead I read the Tetons taking into consideration their mood. Clouds lift to greater heights unveiling their stoic exterior. Sunlight streams, slowly, as the minutes tick, until the wall of rock is entirely illuminated, and invites us: Come closer!
And then I hear someone order a caramel macchiato. Turns out it’s the mother. Her girl-child, having felt a tug on the leash, stands up without a word, moves a few steps toward the mountain view, plops down, opens the book, and starts again from the beginning.
I wanted to kick the mother in the shins. For a number of reasons. But mostly, because I’m a judgmental asshole. The caramel macchiato was the last straw. Who orders a caramel macchiato at 7 a.m. with twenty people behind her in line? Who orders a caramel macchiato at all? Ever? There is no god. We’re both assholes in a coffee line. She for her lack of awareness, me for my hyper-awareness.
Good and evil, right and wrong, are they equal opportunity, one size fits all? Should they be? To some God exists, to others she’s a speck on the horizon in the form of an elk.
Thanks for reading…