The Diaries: rushing through Utah’s Mormons
Returned to SF at 5am on the red-eye. Got a call from a friend overseas, who should be joining on my journey back East. Retrieved the car from a friend’s friend in Oakland. Dusty, sputtering, but I was off.
Hit Napa Valley and the vineyards, driving up to Montelena, historical first California wine to beat the Frenchies at the Paris tasting of 1976 (Chardonnay). Didn’t partake in the tasting though, as prices ranged from 30$-130$ per glass. Beautiful region, hilly vineyards, saw the domains of some more commonplace house wines: Sutter Homes, Robert Mondavi. Couldn’t locate the entrance to F. Coppola’s Rubicon estate. Healthy grapes though not fully ripened, the air amorous with flower smells that I can’t identify.
Extremely touristic, as I had been warned (Sonoma valley is supposed to be less crowded… for now… relatively speaking).
Fell asleep at the wheel going to Napa, for the first time really (had had a close call in Alabama). I awoke as the car rattled off the road and into the grass to the left – luckily not into the traffic on the right lane. Double lucky because there were police cars parked just about a hundred yards further up the road. Drove off and napped, of course a cop came to check on me eventually).
Got poor, rushed pictures, but sufficient for my purposes. However: rushed for time, with an overheating engine in the unbearable Bay Area traffic, I didn’t make it back to SF and the Golden Gate bridge, SF’s most iconic and well-known symbol. This illustrates the headache I’m facing with this speedy return: I run the risk of rushing too much and missing the content I need for the appropriate completion of this project. In fact, it is now a grim certainty that – for several areas – I will be lacking the material, as well as the infused knowledge brought about by the ‘slowness’ of the approach I had adopted thus far.
A huge disappointment I have yet to address; more when I have come to grips with what this entails.
Drove to Reno, got there in the late evening. I’m uncomfortable to say Reno has been awarded, in my book, the title of most depressing city in the US. The ‘Biggest Small Town’ full of Vegas-like casinos a-glitter and a-lighted, was ghostly. A wonder that the town is still alive, because if what I saw was representative at all, most of these deep-pocketed businesses are running straight into brick-hard bankruptcy. Dragging along the res of small businesses with them…
I saw a comedian’s ‘roast’ in the only populated bar in town: best of luck at the new Costco in Chicago (and got confirmation that Reno’s economy is “tanking”). Ate a chicken and kalua pig-style taco at the Kenji truck parked in front of the bar, held by Hawaiian girls. Small world…
No signs or depictions of Reno 911, which I had hoped for. Nice riverfront though. I fled the town the next morning.
August 25th – Desert Drive
I crossed Nevada during the day. Few comments. Mostly much of the same dry rocks and brush. Gloomy, cheap casinos all along the way, including at what seems like every gas station. Perhaps had thoughts that evaporated with the heat. The car held up, barely. Crossed the Salt Lake deserts. Pretty although I was expecting a vaster expanse of whiteness.
Utah delivered beauty in the form of clouded-over mountains, the Great Salt Lake, lush fields. The odorous smell of salt water, striking when hundreds of miles inland. Quite a few factories, industrial infrastructure in the Salt Lake City area.
Salt Lake City: hard to miss the predominant ‘Church of the Latter-day Saints’ and its convention center. Home and heart of Mormonism. There must have been a convention for international Mormons because they roamed all over, flagged badged tagged on their chests.
Got into an interesting conversation with two sisters (religious), although they declined to be interviewed on camera (they aren’t allowed, for public relations reasons). Sister P from Great Britain and Sister K from Canada. Here’s how it started (I apologize for giving here a condensed and perhaps unclear recap):
“Are you religious? Or perhaps ‘spiritual’?”
I sense an implicit tinge of disdain for the latter response, common nowadays (at a time of explicit atheism yet unquenchable search of the answer).
“You hear that a lot I suppose? Especially from the younger folk?”
K nods appreciatively.
P does most of the talking, learns about my travels, affirms that life is a quest for knowledge (a treacherous word), a constant learning experience (less treacherous), that what matters is progress (more treacherous).
I agree, emphasize the importance of remaining open-minded.
Our first issue is about the physical form of God. P contends that he (or she? Or they or whatever pronoun(s) ) has two arms, two legs, etc. Her argument is based on one of the Bible’s most well-known quotes, even to the irreducible ignorant that I am, that “God Made Man in His Own Image.”
My understanding of the concept of God is different.
“Isn’t God supposed to represent a spiritual essence which we are striving for spiritually?”
“Then perhaps that quote can be understood as the spiritual – allegorical, metaphorical – image that God has endowed us with, not the particular physical form we perceive as having?”
They get my point, which is not well explained in the above. I allude to the fact that we tend to make God in our own image…
“Where do you think we’re from?” asks Platt.
“As we said earlier, spirituality is about realizing there is something greater than ourselves, right?”
“So I can’t consider ourselves, or myself, without considering everything there is around us. In other words, I can only consider us as part of the whole, and to answer that question would be to consider where everything is from.”
I’ll let the reader guess what line of reasoning this is spawned from, or what conclusions it leads to. (There are several, inconclusive.)
“And to that question (where is everything from) I don’t know the answer.” The sisters and I agree that our humble minds are not well-wired for that particular exercise – and how could they be?
They teach me a few things about Mormonism, but don’t take my word for it:
P presents to me the Book of Mormons, by Joseph Smith.
“Have you heard of it?”
“Unfortunately the little I’ve heard is from a source you presumably don’t appreciate.”
“Wikipedia?” snickers K.
“South Park?” ventures P.
I nod. They take no offense. Apparently there are three ‘stages’ in the Mormon conception:
1) Man is with God in heaven
2) Man’s mortal life
3) The Afterlife, Man returns to God
I’m intrigued, why would God then decide to give us a mortal life if we were in Heaven in the first place, especially if it is simply to return to the same state afterwards (if we understand heaven as a state of perfection which is immovable)? Is there any evolution for us between those two perfect states, and how so (words, words, words…)?
K suggests an analogy, which I’m not fully convinced about, but offers a human-based understanding of the question:
“The purpose of material life is to learn. It’s just like when you’re in your parents’ home, you’re safe and happy, but you must at one point go out to grow up and learn about the world on your own, before you can return with a fuller understanding.”
P says there is an evolution, because in the afterlife Man gets to keep his memories – his learnings – from the mortal life.
“Does this mean that in pre-mortal life, when Man is in heaven, that we have access to the same emotions, including suffering and such?
Although they’re slightly puzzled at first by this idea (I must say here that they were, self-admittedly, in no way theologians or strict academics of their belief), they respond in the affirmative.
She makes me read a passage in the Book of Mormons, something about Man having to perform his labors in order to meet God.
Two weeks later I received a call from Sister P – I had somewhat reluctantly given her my number at her request – but was busy at the time and we never got to resume the conversation.