Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 3, 2018


A year or so would pass not so long ago before either of us would have to go to the doctor’s office for a “checkup”.  Now we uncover aches, pains, spots and bumps, symptoms of all kinds that merit the pursed lips and worried looks of professionals at least once a month.  We have a new car which already knows the way much more than any horse and sleigh might have as it takes Grandma and Grandpa to clinic, hospital, office and or pharmacy.


It is nearly 7:00am.  Beyond the wall of trees, a few dozen yards away down the river the sun, at least a mile from where it rose at Summer’s height, shines its first pale light, begins to creep up the sky and reveal the pale blue, the cold blue of a winter sky. Too early!  Too darn early.  There’ll be no angry red swelling of clouds today, and spits of cold rain throughout as yesterday’s sullen weather provided.

And all is quiet.  The river, like a silken sheet beneath the morning’s stillness, is slipping by at a height born from weeks of rain, it seems, which brought on us a fullness usually formed by winter’s snow melt from the mountains.  It will be cold today; cold and still.  And, I have a doctor’s appointment at 3:00pm.

The neighbor’s dog barks at the day; one, two and then a volley of three before it has satisfied itself that the world has been arranged as it would have it so.  Birds?  They are somewhere in a tree nearby stoking the fire.

My coffee grows cold on the desk, and I have been here less than ten minutes.

Did I mention I had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon at three?  His office is a busy place.  Everyone there seems my age, and limps awfully as they struggle from check in to a chair and begin waiting to be called, then disappear behind a door.  The television screens don’t mind.  They flash pictures and blab words uninterrupted by anything that happens below them, chronicling nonsense and news from morning until evening; scores and temperatures, disasters and death across the world, and very well dressed young men and women to explain it all to the the room not listening.  Well, the weather does get the odd glance.

Yesterday, or the day before, I can’t remember, I began to read a new book by Anthony Esolen.  His newest is titled “Nostalgia”.  Here is a paragraph about the word from something called The Online Etymology Dictionary:

nostalgia (n.)

1770, “severe homesickness considered as a disease,” Modern Latin, coined 1688 in a dissertation on the topic at the University of Basel by scholar Johannes Hofer (1669-1752) as a rendering of German heimweh “homesickness” (for which see home + woe). From Greek algos “pain, grief, distress” (see -algia) + nostos “homecoming,” from neomai “to reach some place, escape, return, get home,” from PIE *nes- “to return safely home” (cognate with Old Norse nest “food for a journey,” Sanskrit nasate “approaches, joins,” German genesen “to recover,” Gothic ganisan “to heal,” Old English genesen “to recover”). French nostalgie is in French army medical manuals by 1754.

The author’s treatment of the word in his first chapter is both wider and deeper, and a bit more charitable to the thing, I think; but, I happen to think nothing here, if he ever reads this (which is not very likely unless I put it in his hands) would be strange.  He would recognize and understand every bit of the thing.

It’s not a sickness, nostalgia, I think.  If you ask me, and you needn’t, nostalgia’s more like an ache.  My first wife, Sheila, may she rest in peace, had a lot of bone breaks as a child.  She was a delicate person, but in body only.  In spirit she was the toughest, truest person I met until I met the woman she picked for me, lady who now sleeps quietly downstairs.  Anyway, back to Sheila and her broken bones.

She described the “knowledge”, the deep feeling within when a bone was broken, that something was out of place, something important and necessary.  It was almost a kind of mourning for what had once been good, whole and the way it was meant to be.  The feeling was always the same she said.  Something which had been whole and good, no longer was that way.  The pain itself told her, of course, that there was a very bad thing which had occurred on a physical level.  But, this was the “feeling” of change, and as she described it I could only think of loss.  It was something deeper  almost spiritual; and it was no different when she broke her back than when she broke her collar bone, or an arm or, even a finger.  She was not whole, she was broken.  And, unless something solid and white was sticking out of her skin no one else would know; and until she told me, she hadn’t ever mentioned this deeper, existential hurt to anyone. 

Perhaps she was experiencing “Nostalgia” for what had been whole and was now broken.  I can tell you that my latest trip to the doctor’s office this afternoon involves an experience like that nostalgia.  I have had rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder, which was never broken, just worn out after the abuse I’ve given it,  I am nostalgic for the life I was able to lead when it wasn’t a torn thing.  But that’s a surface reaction.

Sheila described something like a change in the soul, a change form what had made her who she was, and now was not.

Toward the end of his long introduction, Dr. Esolen writes about a French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, who is talking about loss; in this instance a loss of culture, a neglect of the past and the tremendous sensation, that, it seems, almost no one feels, because, well to borrow from Sheila, the bones, the connections, have been broken; and they can’t go on without either the path, or the tools to negotiate it.  The book he refers to is something called “Homo Viator”.  I suppose one could render the title as  “Man the Traveler”.  We have a place to go, every one of us, and we have been shown the way by the ones gone before.  Or had been, until recently.

Dr. Esolen concludes his mention of Marcel with a short quote from the book: “Perhaps a stable order can only be established on earth if man always remains acutely conscious that his condition is that of a traveler.”  In other words, we were started on a journey and we have a destination.  We are, more or less, all going home. 

How do we get there?

That was the question that gave me pause, the question that the last sentence of the introduction to the book seemed to be prompting me to ask.  The answer I thought, had to have something to do with whatever “equipment” I had to make the journey. I sat looking out of the window at what little of the world I could see around me and thought for a while about the journey so far, and how much time I might have before it is finished…at home or short of the mark by a foot or a mile.

It was Samuel Johnson who said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

I began to realize that I have had help all along the way, and companions, too, but, sometimes like Ado Annie, a guy just can’t say no. You know?  No matter what he believes is down the road waiting for him.  I began to think, like that old song, that I had a heart made of stone:

I never finished the book, “Heaven’s My Destination”, by Thornton Wilder but maybe I should have all those years ago.  My dim memory of it is that he nearly ran out the string, and was sort of put back on his feet by an encounter with a priest.  He’d been on fire for the Lord and a real pain for most of the people he came in contact with.  I’ve met them, like two fellows I shared a cab with in Dallas one morning Long ago, one of whom asked me if I have been saved.  “From what?” I asked back.  They ignored me for the rest of the ride and talked among themselves about hoe the Good Lord had showered them with blessings…in the form of new cars, big houses and stuff.

It’s one of my most vivid memories of three years in Texas.  And, I often wondered whose heart was made of stone.  Because, I could see, clear as the sun coming up it the morning, saving wasn’t about a big house on the prairie, and a son who was the star quarterback on Friday Night.

Figuring there’s about fifteen years left, I have made up my mind to accept the help offered, and follow the only road that leads me home.  There’s a couple of hills to walk over, or around.


This was started a week or so ago. We just got back from another trip to the hospital about an hour ago.  My hands are shaking, and I don’t know whether it’s from too much caffeine or just being there for, what is it between us, the fifth or sixth time in three months.  It’s getting closer.







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