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Life After Death in Istanbul

I told Laura and Erma that the trip to Istanbul was symbolic for me.  I started referring to it as: Istanbul: Life After Death. It would signify a change—the realization that my husband wasn’t going to walk miraculously into the apartment and an acceptance that a recent romance definitely had expired.  Realization, acceptance, and whatever-is-next anticipation.

I said this to sons John and Hunter and Hunter’s girlfriend Casey, who’d been traveling in Turkey for a couple of weeks before Laura, Erma, and I arrived. John said he’d walked by a café and heard an elderly couple’s conversation. In Spanish, the man said, “Istanbul is the most romantic city in the world.”

After we checked in at our rental, an apartment with a balcony from which we could see the Galata Tower and the Golden Horn, I embraced that customary jolt of second wind and hit the pavement with the boys and Casey to explore the magical maze of ally shops, cobblestone streets and steep steps leading to more alleys, treasures, cafes, and crowds of people in our neighborhood.

Our sextet went sightseeing to all the places recommended by friends and travel guides.  We boarded a ferry for a tour on the Bosphorus, passing the Dolmabahce Palace, Topkapi Palace Museum, the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya on the European side of Istanbul and the Maiden’s Tower and Haydarpaşa Train Station on the Asian side.

We listened to the beauty of the Muslim call to prayer.

And at the Grand Bazaar with its 5000 shops, we laughed when a vendor asked, “Can I help you spend your money?”

Another said, “I won’t cheat you so much.”

Before we left for Turkey, a neighbor advised that I buy a rug.  I told him I don’t want stuff—that I’d like to get rid of everything I own.  None of this is important to me anymore.

Maybe, this letting go of things is crucial to life after death.

On Friday, we went a second time to Sultanahmet and sat in a café where John, Hunter, and Casey had eaten before Laura, Erma, and I arrived.  Hunter took me down a long flight of stairs to see an area the owner had discovered during renovation—the ancient ruins of Palatium Magnum.

Later, I got in bed and opened my computer.  A seven-hour time difference meant that Counterpunch articles were still loading when I was ready for bed in Istanbul.  I turned off the light and put my head on the pillow after I saw that mine was up.

I awakened Saturday, checked Counterpunch to read Alex Cockburn’s piece, always the weekender’s lead, and last to be put on the page.  “This is strange,” I said to John.  Alex doesn’t have an article.  Minutes later, John, reading from his iPad, told me someone had Tweeted that Alex was dead. Stunned, I said, “Oh, no,” and began to look for confirmation.  Nothing.

I had a lunch date with Michael Dickinson, artist, actor, writer, and Counterpunch contributor.  Jeffrey St. Clair had email intro’d us when he knew I was going to Istanbul.  Michael and I met in front of my hotel. I told him I’d heard of Alex’s death, but that I had no confirmation. Over lunch, Michael and I talked as if we’d known one another all our lives and, frequently, one of us would say, “It can’t be true.”  Or, “This is terrible.”

When I returned to the apartment, I did a search and found no mention of Alex’s death.  Finally, I emailed Jeffrey.  He told me Alex had died.

I had related to Michael a funny exchange I’d had with Alex.  This was during his “tumbril tossing,” a section after his articles. He’d thrown to the dung heap the terms “kind of” and “sort of.”  I responded, telling him I kinda, sorta like these.  Later, Alex mentioned my name in one of the paragraphs, and he misspelled Beattie.  I wrote and said, “Dear Alex, if you ever misspell my name again, I’ll……..”

His reply, “Oh, God, how much I hate myself.”

I feel profound sadness for the loss of a great and fearless man.  For his family and many friends. That his powerful voice is silent. Yet, I take some comfort in knowing that his words, those elegant images of phrase-turning uniqueness, will endure.

I continue to think about Istanbul: Life After Death. Its meaning has moved along, grown a stem. I chose the city after writing my widowhood stories. But, now, Istanbul: Life After Death represents more.  It’s the place I was visiting when I received the news of Alex Cockburn’s death.

Istanbul: Death After Life.

John Lennon is credited with saying: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  A diagnosis is, as well, and so is death—the death of someone for whom you care, the death of anyone, really. Often, it’s unacceptable.  I think this about Alex, so I navigate a negative to force a positive. He no longer is in pain, no longer has to endure treatment for cancer.

Life After Death. Death After Life. Death after a life well lived.  I think this of Alex.  That he held to account anyone who earned his ire and celebrated those he respected.

I know Alex’s niece, Laura Flanders.  And, recently, Alex’s daughter Daisy wrote that she likes my work. I extend to them, to all his family, my condolences. And, of course, my thoughts also are with Alex’s close friends—especially Jeffrey St. Clair.

Missy Beattie wrote this while in Turkey. Email: missybeat@gmail.com

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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