Every night there were social events with the conference attendees and their significant others and we met scientists from all over the world. On the patio of a French restaurant we ate dinner with a Canadian researcher whose team regularly travels back and forth to small African villages to collect samples when there is an outbreak of the Ebola virus.
After the conference was over we began to make our way north to Glacier National Park. Our first stop was Missoula. Maybe it was our inner cowboy/cowgirl bubbling to the surface, but it didn't take us long to start imagining ourselves living there one day. With a farmer's market and summer fair in full swing that Saturday morning, we were smitten. We parked the car and started hunting for a place to eat breakfast. When we stopped to look at the menu posted in the window of a coffee shop, a guy sitting at a table on the patio said, "If you're looking for the best breakfast in town you've arrived at the right place." We stayed and he was right.
When we finished eating we wandered into the shops and art galleries and bookstores. We wanted to stay longer but we had many miles to cover to make it to Glacier by dinnertime and so we headed back to where our car was parked.
A few blocks from the main drag we stood at an intersection waiting for the light to change and I noticed a guy (not much older than high school) standing on the other side of the street waiting to cross. It looked like he was wearing a uniform and I assumed he was a security guard on his way to work. When the light changed and we got closer we saw much more - a gun holstered on each hip and the brown uniform of a neo-Nazi. Mark and I said nothing and walked quickly to the car where we locked the doors and looked at each other with a holy-shit-was-that-what-I-think-it-was-and-where-was-he-going look.
Amid the memories of that trip with its breathtaking landscape and the dozens of scientists committed to eradicating or preventing deadly infectious diseases, was the lone figure of that kid we passed who was no older than my own son. In beauty and dedication the former should far outweigh the latter and most of the time it does. Sometimes, though, I go back to that crosswalk in Missoula and wonder how somebody gets up in the morning, puts on a uniform associated with Hitler, straps a gun onto each hip and heads towards the Saturday morning farmer's market.
How hard the good and the holy in this world have to work day after day to atone for the destructive.