The Divine Hours of Lent

I spend a lot of my life in hotels. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. Truth told, I like hotels. Left to my own devices, I have always said, in fact, that I would live in a hotel permanently, assuming I could find one to my liking and that I could afford.
There are familial reasons for my feeling so inclined. My maternal grandfather was what used to be called a “turn-around man.” He worked for companies—and eventually for himself—that bought hotels that were on the downside of the curve, refurbished, re-staffed, and re-invigorated them back into profitability, and then moved on to the next ailing hostelry. As a result, my mother spent a good many of her formative years running around hotel penthouses and being baby-sat by superb chefs who let her watch so long as she would sit quietly on a nearby counter. The result was that she was herself a superb chef, untroubled by having three or four dozen guests in at any one time. She was also restive…faintly, but consistently. I inherited the latter, but unfortunately entirely missed the former. The restiveness has served me well, though; or at least it has made my roving life a familiar and comfortable way of being.
But things being as things are, and given my somewhat peripatetic life as a public lecturer, my hotel life is in seriatum, rather than a matter of hunkering down in any one place for more that three or four days. The flip side of constantly re-locating from hotel to hotel is, of course, that each time I leave one hotel, I go to another very similar, although ostensibly different one. It’s the leaving, though, that I always remember.
Going in, most up-scale hotel rooms really are very like unto one another. The windows are large, with curtains as well as drapes. There is a desk with the requisite number of plug-ins. The electric clock is equally unprogrammable in all of them, and the television is always hidden in a cupboard as if it were somehow ashamed of itself. Given their almost bland similarity, one to another, I scarcely notice any particular part of any one of those rooms as I unpack. It is afterward, when I am notice.
After two or three nights in a place, after bathing there and sleeping there and reading and writing there, my immediate memories are tethered there, caught on one piece of furniture or another, or on one view or another, or on one unusually comfortable chair or another.
Then the time comes to move on. I pack up all the bits and pieces of me that are scattered about. I check the drawers, the closet, the bathroom to be sure everything is back in my suitcase. And then, standing in the doorway, suitcase beside me, I look back, every single time, at the room I am leaving, and I am overwhelmed, every single time, by how little that room cares…by how it could possible be that I have made no impression at all on that space. Once housekeeping has carried out my trash and bookkeeping has run my credit card for the last time, I and this place will no longer have any connection with one another, as far as it is concerned. And standing in that doorway, looking back into that room, I experience all over again the bitter sweetness of human finitude.

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