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Monday, August 6, 2012

Mountain Of Grief



I had no idea King Midas was real. I figured he was a mythical figure, so when told we were pausing at his burial site I was surprised. The landscape was flat and barren except for short grasses that waved in the wind. In the distance I spotted a small mountain. Our guide, Selchuk, explained that it wasn’t a mountain. Not a mountain? What could it be?


The mountain seemed to grow as our bus brought us near. “This is the burial mound of King Midas,” Selchuk explained.


“The dude who turned everything he touched into gold?” one of our traveling companions asked.


“A story that must have evolved over time, an embellishment referring to his extreme wealth,” Selchuk answered. “There were several kings over the centuries named Midas, but this mound is the burial site of the most famous.”


The more I examined it, the more impressive the mound became. Built in a land without quarries or timber, this was a remarkable feat. My head swam when I tried to calculate the tons of earth moved to create this mound.


“An American team of archeologists excavated the mound in the 80’s,” Selchuk said. “They found many interesting items: wooden tables, glassware and ceramics, but no gold. I invite you to visit the burial chamber, which you can do by walking a hundred yards into the mound by way of the tunnel the archeologists left behind.”


Mrs. Chatterbox looked apprehensive. “Do you think it’s safe?” she whispered to me.


“Of course,” I answered. “Don’t you want to see where King Midas was buried?”


“Not particularly.” But Mrs. Chatterbox, an amazingly good sport, followed me into the tunnel.


Events often shuffle in my mind; what I think is important fades behind something seemingly insignificant that manages to stick in my brain. The tunnel was long and not particularly interesting, and when we arrived at the burial chamber it was empty. I was mildly impressed with the five thousand year old timbers used in the construction of the chamber since there weren’t any sizable trees outside for hundreds of miles. But all interesting artifacts discovered inside the mound had been removed to various Turkish museums.


Mrs. C. and I gulped fresh air when we left the tunnel. We walked over to our guide. A quick look told us something was wrong. Very wrong. Selchuk was ashen, his trademark smile nowhere to be found. Our group gathered near the bus. When everyone had viewed the mound and had been accounted for he said, “I just received a phone call from home, bad news. My mother has unexpectedly died. She passed away this morning.” Tears were streaming down his face. “I’ll be leaving you for a few days. According to Islamic law, my mother must be buried within twenty-four hours. I’m catching a three hour flight to Istanbul tonight to be with my father.”


When we arrived in Turkey we’d all been strangers, but Selchuk had quickly forged us into a family, and he was an integral part. We all took turns hugging him and offering condolences. Then we piled back into the bus and headed to our next stop where Selchuk had arranged for another guide to take his place. He explained, “My good friend Achmed will temporarily fill in for me. He recently lost both parents in a car crash and understands what I am going through. I’ll return in three days.”


It’s common for traveling companions to rotate bus seats to avoid riding in the same section, and our seat happened to be opposite Selchuk’s. I could see his shoulders shaking as he did his best to control his sobbing. My heart went out to him, as I’m sure everyone’s did.


Midas’s mound receded into the background. Thousands of years ago a nation channeled its grief into burying a king destined to figure prominently in history’s collective consciousness. Countless hands filled buckets of dirt to create a mountain for their departed sovereign, but when I saw the grief clouding Selchuk’s eyes I knew that Midas’s mound reached no higher than the mountain of grief pressing down on Selchuk's heart.


King or mother of a tour guide; it makes no difference when you lose someone you love.


Selchuk at the walls of Troy.

36 comments:

  1. Aw, poor guy. That's really tough to have to get there in 24 hours to in order to bury the body.

    We really don't make memorials like in the old days, where they'd build those huge mounds or pyramids just for one guy (and maybe his servants). Even the super rich like Steve Jobs or someone might get a mausoleum but not anything so big. With 7 billion people that's probably for the best.

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  2. Profoundly moving, my friend-

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  3. Of COURSE King Midas was real! Didn't he do mufflers, too?
    Seriously, fantastic post.

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  4. Fascinating as always and of course poor Selchuk.

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  5. What of lovely telling of life and how death impacts us all. Great story. Oma Linda

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  6. How wonderful -- and heart-wrenching -- that we form such bonds.

    Well written.

    Pearl

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  7. Made me cry for your tour guide...

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  8. How sad for Selchuk. Losing one's parents is inevitable but the process of dealing with it is so heartbreaking. Even when you are given warning it is hard but unexpected makes it worse, I would think.

    I, too thought the King Midas was a fictional character. So where are the remains of KM if the chamber was empty?

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  9. It had to ease his grief some to have the love and support of your group at that time.

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  10. How sad. It just goes to show how ones life can change in the blink of an eye, and how every day is precious.

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  11. What a moving story, and told so beautifully...wow. Incidentally...somewhere or somehow, I accidentally deleted your congrats message on my blog give-away contest...could you put another one there?? Pretty please? Or I might just give a shout out on the thanks post I have coming and make note of it there. Either way, thank you so much for jumping in from time to time. Maybe you'll be up for the contest I have cooking for fall. :)

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  12. Interesting history of the king. I thought he was a mythical character too. Learn something new everyday.

    Too bad about his mom. That is sad indeed.

    Have a terrific week ahead. :)

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  13. witnessing the grief of another is a humbling experience. and rich or poor, loss is loss.

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  14. Ah..the sentimental Chatterbox, never know where you are going, but always worth the trip. Well done!

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  15. Oh I didn't know you were meant to rotate seats in the bus, I'm a creature of habit.

    Interesting story. Poor guy.

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  16. that really was a terrible news, Anyways, nice of you to share this along. Keep writing. :)

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  17. You have drawn some lovely and thought-provoking comparisons. Grief is indeed a timeless experience.

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  18. It is an interesting coincidence that the great divide of time has not really dulled the impact of losing a loved one.

    In death, we are all equal.

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  19. eventful for you!
    travel made the point of highlighting our common humanity.

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  20. Fascinating story and your style in writing it is exceptional.

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  21. Your post is both informative and humanely sensitive. Thank you.

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  22. That's really sad. I think one of the great things about travelling isn't so much the places you see as the people you meet.

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  23. AW, my heart aches for Selchuk's--your gift with words made his pain feel so real!

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  24. You make me wish i could have been there to hug him, too.

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  25. Isn't it amazing how you can live for decades next door to people you barely know, yet being on a trip together for two weeks can make you lifetime friends and closer than family.

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  26. A tragedy amid great fun is much more vivid. Interesting about the tomb.

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  27. What an incredibly powerful experience, very sad too. Selchuk looks like a kindhearted man. I really like the way you wove this story together, Stephen. Also, I didn't know King Midas was real.

    xoRobyn

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  28. G'day CC. One of the nicest posts I have read for a while. Take care. Liz...

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  29. The timing was incredible for that. I hope he was able to get home all right, and it certainly gave a different perspective on a tomb!

    Cat

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  30. This makes my heart want to reach out to him...

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  31. Your posts are always so heartfelt. I so enjoy reading about your travels with Mrs. Chatterbox. Thank you.

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  32. This is a very touching story. (I also had no idea Midas was based on history in any way.)

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  33. What a touching tale and such a sad but moving event. I'm sure Selchuck felt somewhat consoled by those of you who had been strangers but were now unified by his grief.

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