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: One day in Rome

Postmodern Epiphany
Eric D. Lehman

On our second day in Rome, my family and I shuffled eagerly in the morning sun, waiting to see the fabled Sistine Chapel. I had examined histories, guide books, and The Agony and the Ecstasy. I was ready to see what the imagination of Michaelangelo had done for civilization: put a real human face on an unknowable and distant god.

After waiting in the street only briefly, the tour guide rushed us past long lines, up a huge flight of stairs, and into the fortress of the Vatican. We slowed down a little, swallowing the appetizer of a long sculpture gallery.

Then, the tour group hurried down stairs and around a corner. At the entrance, the smiling guide told us to take our time in the Chapel itself. I’m not sure if our tour operators bribed the guards or if the hour we were given was a common time limit. But most other tourists I observed hustled through the barn-shaped temple fairly quickly. My family and the rest of our group did not. We stared at Michaelangelo’s ceiling, walking around in circles or sitting on the benches along the walls, heads craned to the painted sky. I tried to absorb the subtleties that make this one of the greatest artistic achievements of all time.

And then I saw him, mingling with the crowd. God. Or close enough. Standing and looking up at the Renaissance masterpiece next to someone I presume was his son, was the actor John DeLancie. The actor from Star Trek who played "Q," the omnipotent god-figure from that fictional universe. I rushed over to my mother and pointed him out. She also recognized him and urged me to go up to him and say something. But I didn’t want to bother him; he was on vacation with his own family and surely didn’t want the accolades of some unknown critic.

So, after a few minutes, he passed through the gates and into the rest of the Vatican. I continued wandering aimlessly about the Chapel, gazing at the centerpiece, Michaelangelo’s version of the Almighty reaching out to touch Adam. But now it was filled with new light and meaning. I had seen the human face of God, albeit a mythical, postmodern version. And with this blending of ancient and modern, of complex and pedestrian art, of architecture and coincidence, I felt the strange magic that has infused all religions since time began. I had what passes as a spiritual experience for a cynical traveler in the twenty-first century. For me, this seemingly adulterated episode was more than enough. I had found all the proof I needed that god exists, if only in our imperfect and imagined fictions.
© Eric Lehman

Great Pan is Dead by Eric D Lehman is will be published by Little Bound Books March 2019

Eric is an English professor at the University of Bridgeport and has traveled extensively throughout the world.  He has been previously published by various web journals, such as August Cutter, Niederngasse, Simply Haiku, and of course Hackwriters.

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