Last Friday morning Angela called with the news that my sister-in-law’s sister, Janelle, had died in her sleep. Reason unknown, but an undiagnosed heart problem, perhaps related to sleep apnea, is suspected. She was 54 years old, an unusually generous, gregarious person.
A death in the family forces you to reflect, and six weeks into building a new life is a good time to stop and assess. Here in Istanbul the heat and midsummer inactivity means that I have met few people. I haven’t jumped into any new activities yet, and it’s not clear if or when I’ll find productive work. I could put this adventure on hold and return to my predictable Minnesota life.
But throughout these uneventful, air-conditioned days, I find myself composing Turkish sentences in my head, thumbing through Mary Lee Settle’s lyrical Turkish Reflections, and marking possible walking tours in John Freely’s Strolling Through Istanbul. Clearly, I’m trying to figure this place out.
I want to travel to Amasya, deep in a gorge where the Halys and Thermadon rivers meet. I want to see where King Midas, St. Nicholas and Aladdin Keykubad lived, and to gaze on the ruins of Troy. I want to visit Trabzon, the Black Sea kingdom that held out for eight years after the Roman Empire crumbled. I want to walk past Lycian tombs, climb Crusader castles, and explore the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Ancient Wonders of the World.
I want to find out if there are any blue-eyed, red-headed Galatians left in central Turkey, descendants of the wild Scottish Gauls transplanted there in 264 B.C.
Visiting these enigmatic places will build great memories, but I’m after more. Shaken by last week’s tragedy, I am seeking clues on how to better live my life. And I have every indication that the gregarious, generous Turks will help show the way. Settle writes:
I found there the greatest capacity for friendship I have ever known. It was in the genes and in the past of the Turkish people, so deep and so beyond individual choice that I have wondered ever since about its sources.