Go East, Young Man

The Guideposts senior editor shares how faith and God are present everywhere.

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Kate and the kids and I flew to Seattle last week on vacation. Flights west always trace the same emotional arc for me. Endless green (white in winter) of the East and Midwest suddenly give way to mountains (Rockies), blond desert, mountains again (Sierras, Cascades). My heart gradually lightens and opens. I’m back West. I’m home.

I remember once flying to Los Angeles from England. An English couple peering out the window marveled at a desert road far below. “It just goes on and on,” one said. “So straight,” said the other. I realized the vast spaces I’d grown up with aren’t universal. The American West really is different.

I used to feel foolish condescension toward the East, where I live now. No mountains here, no wilderness, no deserts, no rainforests, no sagebrush, no vistas, no loneliness. Everything’s domesticated. The so-called mountains are just hills without glaciers. That wilderness quality of fierce indifference simply doesn’t exist.

This trip my feelings were more complicated. Crossing the bridge on the way to JFK at sunrise I looked back at the Manhattan skyline. It was dark and broody, shrouded in winter morning mist. The density was choking. I thought of the concentration of life, the easy freedom of a big city where no one is too weird, too lost or too wrong to belong. New York is fiercely indifferent in its own way. And yet it welcomes everyone with brassy, tattooed arms. Welcomes and then ignores them. It never heard my condescension.

In Seattle towering mountain ranges appear and disappear behind hanging veils of cloud. Our last day we stood at a hilltop playground watching the Olympics slowly materialize behind the downtown skyline. The mountains were immense, thrillingly remote, a white-veined wall against which the city’s skyscrapers became so many upright matchsticks. Light rain fell. Clouds closed in and the mountains vanished.

My point here is that I used to be a person who put parameters around where and when I was likely to feel the presence of God. Usually that happened outside in some vast, wild place. It happened so predictably I became smug about it, or assumed there was some correlation between God and wilderness. There is a correlation, but it’s not limited. God is present everywhere. I just wasn’t looking.

We returned to New York late Sunday evening. Waiting for a cab outside the terminal we watched a song-and-dance traffic cop get into it with an illegal livery cab driver. “This man will swindle you!” the cop announced, jabbing a jivey finger at a beat-up Town Car. “You believe this guy?” the beefy driver bellowed. Cars honked. Drivers shouted. The cop shouted back. Tourists shrank away nervously. The four of us (well, Kate, Frances and me—Benjamin’s an infant) smiled. Frances stood by the curb, hands tucked nonchalantly in her fleece pockets. We were back in New York. We were home.

Jim Hinch is a senior editor at GUIDEPOSTS. Reach him at [email protected].

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