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Waves of Nostalgia

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This morning, I ran the flatness of St Simons Island and wrote an article in my head.

Two hours later, after a shower, several phone calls, and interactions with Laura and Erma, I sat at the keyboard, fingers poised. All those words and images flowing during the endorphin rush had blurred, gone astray. This means that article in my head may not be what you’re reading, but I’ll close my eyes and try to retrieve the thoughts. If I can’t, this is a message from and to my private, emergency broadcasting system.

Easiest recall is this poem:

I died for beauty but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth,–the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names. ~Emily Dickinson

I died for beauty, but was scarce

“Until the moss … “ Spanish moss. I’m looking out at it now, and, yes, during my run, I entered the eeriness of Neptune Park, sped past and under limbs of mournful trees wearing shawls of moss. That’s when I invoked the Dickinson poem that precedes this paragraph.

Mournful. Of course. I thought of personal losses. After all, this is the beach town, the location of family vacation, when my parents and husband were alive.

Then I thought of war deaths, figures I’d read a couple of days ago. During the early years of the war, I checked war deaths frequently. And after my nephew was killed by a vehicle-borne IED in 2005, I accessed a site almost daily for information.

Current stats record that nearly 4,900 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq. The number of international troops killed in Afghanistan is almost 3,500. The number of Iraqis killed is nearly 1.5 million. And the price tag on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 is above $1.6 trillion. These are staggering figures—too large to grasp. Even one death should be incomprehensible, as fall-to-the-floor incomprehensible as when it is YOUR son, daughter, father, mother, family member, someone you love. Each is someone’s someone. Dying neither for beauty nor for truth. At least not my truth.

Dormant poetry resides in my brain and wakes when triggered by both the minor and major. Synapses blaze. Sometimes there’s one line, two, a stanza, or completion. While war carnage still hovered, this appeared:

when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because

You recognize E. E. Cummings.

With this, I sped to water, stepped onto the planks of the pier, running to the end to stare in awe. I almost expected my personal Ahab to emerge. Instead, I saw the majestic, sunlight hitting whitecaps, and mystery, ocean’s vastness and unknowable horizon. Eventually I imagined migrants, forced to leave their homes, seeking sanctuary. Turning, I noticed fishermen, taking their bounty from the sea.

After selling my condo, distributing furniture, even giving away my car, I’m nomadic, hitching dreams to a question mark and also to Laura and Erma, carpooling. We, The Sisterhood, are together now, on vacation. Compared to most of the population, my life IS a vacation. St. Simons brings waves of nostalgia though. As does May, the month my husband died. April’s supposed to be the cruelest month. It isn’t, for me.

Addendum: The apartment where we’re staying is internet-less and the week of service I purchased is weak of service. Right now, I’m sitting in a rocking chair on the oceanfront public library’s porch. The breeze is intoxicating. I might find the meaning of life here. I look up from the computer. A woman’s turning cartwheels on the lawn. I inhale, breathing the sea. Wish you were here.

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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