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.