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Massacres

Five hours into the ferry ride from Athens to Santorini, the passenger about four feet from me groaned and then vomited into a shopping bag. Twice.

I’ve told you I have motion sickness. I’ve also told you that my son H arranged this travel adventure.

“Mom, the ferry ride isn’t long—about five or six hours.” We’re ferrying now. (Turns out it’s almost eight hours.) And I realize that an assessment of time’s duration, measured in hours, days, even centuries, often depends on the definition of “about”.

One afternoon, we walked the alleys that separate small houses tucked in the hillside. Winding upward through a maze of passageways, we ascended to see the Acropolis. “Follow the fence,” another tourist directed. There was no fence, only a wall and narrow, cobblestone thruways. Determined, we did it. And once there, we looked down at the city, across at Mt. Likavitos and an area where sea and sky merge.

Next day, we headed to Likavitos, negotiating the seemingly endless steps to the gift shop where we could purchase tickets for the tram that would take us to the mountain’s apex. My friend at home who’s from Greece, had emailed, “Take the funicular to the top.” Instead, we climbed. And climbed. And climbed—for a spectacular view of Athens, this city where so many former affluent areas have been transformed by the economic collapse.

This is the birthplace of democracy, of Socrates, so many philosophers, the cradle of Western Civilization. Its history and antiquities are breathtaking but the solution to Greece’s financial problems, a brutal austerity program, has failed.

Anyway, we’ve left Athens and now, aboard the ferry, V and I are seasick, like the man nearby. A woman is sniffing, her head down, a box of tissue at her fingertips. Someone coughs. H, V, and I look at each other. Ebola in the U.S. is among the top stories, thanks to massive incompetence in Texas.

I don’t blame Thomas Duncan for leaving Liberia, where hospitals are overflowing, where patients are turned away, or packed and stacked, left to die, or walking out the doors because the medical staff has died or fled. I think about the ripples. A man boards a plane, has a couple of layovers, and a virus that splashes and splatters, may then occupy another host. I visualize movie scenes, books—Hot Zone, based on that terrifying book, and Contagion, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, which I didn’t see but know about, maybe, from a trailer. I recall that there’s a lottery for a vaccine. We know if this became the reality—a vaccine in short supply—there could be a lottery, and like elections, a farce. Draw a number or vote, inhale and exhale hope, wait. The filthy wealthy become filthy wealthier while the majority face continued inequality, either running in place or backwards. On and on, fever, chills, blood, sweat, tears, diarrhea, vomit, an invasion that would slam life against death, death against life, like war.

It’s brief, our time on this planet. Events that occurred only 50 years ago may seem ancient. Something that shatters the heart, like the loss of a child or spouse, may feel as if it happened yesterday. May feel always as if it happened yesterday.

For several weeks now, H, V, and I have stared at paintings, sculpture, and ruins. It’s difficult to comprehend one’s lifetime much less thousands of years. And learn from it.

While waiting to enter a museum, we’ve engaged in conversations. “Where are you from?” we’ve been asked many times.” Trish from Australia commented on the U.S.’s foreign policy, its effect on the foreign policies of other countries, shaking her head, an opportunity for me to say that our “representative” government doesn’t hear the people’s voice and that corporate media outlets deliver either entertainment, like celebrity weddings, or frightening narratives to scare us into obedience, like the ISIS beheadings.

The war that was supposed to end war wasn’t so long ago, yet we’re now in the long war, invading seven countries in 13 years, catastrophes that have and will continue to blow back wave after wave of hatred as friends, relatives, countrymen and women of the maimed and dead call for vengeance.

Even more I realize that we’re specks. Some of us are just more fortunate specks. I’m not traveling with a heavy backpack because I’m a refugee, displaced, fleeing war. I may be fleeing something, but it’s not danger. I think about this and have no answers. I used to believe enough of us could do something to effect change, to bring peace. But I’ve looked at depictions of battles, paintings titled Massacre of the Innocents, and I shudder at how violent we are and always have been.

Missy Comley Beattie can be reached at 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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