Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Eight-years old

she talks to trees 

and waterways

and animals 

from man to mouse

Before she plays outside my house

She runs to greet the weeping willow

That droops its mourning branches

In majestic sorrow over the creek

To which I hear her say

Dear river

You look so pretty 

In the sunlight today

It’s a creek, sweetie, I say and smile

I know says she but don’t you see

I call it river to make it feel

Important and bigger

She teaches me so much

I love her so

Grant me please 

Half a score or more years

In which to watch her grow

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Tallinn, Estonia and a Nightmare in Progress

The date was May 31, 2005, and we were far from home in the fourth port of our cruise on the Baltic. With our native guide Karin, we were enjoying the beautiful city of Tallinn, which rises dramatically in narrow, ancient roads to the heights of Old Town, one of Northern Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns. It was in the Cathedral of St. Mary (once Catholic, now Lutheran from the time of the Reformation), that several bus groups of us were being treated to a rendition by the church choir. After the long walk from the bus over uneven cobblestones up the hill to Old Town, it was good to be settled in the pews, resting feet, legs, and backs, and enjoying the voices of the male choir, and the music emanating from the great, silver pipes of the organ positioned on the balcony to the back of the church. Then suddenly, almost rudely plucked from my reverie, beside the pew where my husband Al and I were seated I saw a man from our bus group step into the aisle and, all bent-over, shuffle and stumble desperately, seeming to be trying to regain balance. Several of us seated near the end of the pews half-rose to help him, but it all happened too quickly, and with a loud “smack” he landed hard, face down on the floor. Two men and a woman from our group somehow materialized to kneel beside him in the aisle. “They are doctors and a nurse,” someone whispered. Gently, they turned the man on his back. My husband, professionally unobtrusive as always, quietly reached down and took the man’s wrist, searching a pulse. He looked over at me and shook his head. Then one of the two doctors and the nurse began artificial respiration. The doctor pressed hard and released, pressed hard and released, while the nurse, in synchronization, breathed into the victim’s mouth. After a few moments, I looked at my husband, who still held the man’s wrist. This time Al nodded to me, and I knew they had succeeded in reviving the man.

I heard a voice in the group say that an ambulance had been called. Someone else (perhaps my husband, I’m not sure,) said, “Let’s leave by the other side of the pews.” In silence, we ushered into the street, leaving the two doctors and the nurse to tend to the man. Staying together as a group (there were at least thirty of us,) we moved to the opposite side of the narrow road. I remember no conversation among us, but surely, we must have been buzzing to each other. I do, however, remember thinking that I might be sick, and then I thought I might cry, but thank goodness I did neither. Finally, in the distance we heard a siren wail through the narrow streets as it made its way up to Old Town. Without being told, we pressed against the buildings, giving the ambulance room when screaming its ominous scream, it appeared at the crest of the street.

Karin, our guide, seemed as shaken as we, but after some time, when no one further came out of the church, she said, “It is very sad, but life goes on, and now we must continue our tour.” I was resentful of what I considered her calloused attitude, but later, upon less emotional reflection, I realized it was the only thing for her (and for us) to do.

Late that afternoon, on toward five o’clock, as we passengers were making our way up the gangplank, returning to The Star Princess, our temporary home, I wondered if it was the poor man’s wife behind me in line, for I heard her wistful, almost whispering voice say to a woman accompanying her, “Maybe I expected him to do too much today.” From the corner of my eye, I saw her companion put an arm across her shoulder. “Oh, now don’t think like that,” she said. “He would have told you if he was having difficulty.”

The gangplank led to Deck 4, which is the same deck where the Infirmary is located on the ship. I saw one of the two women behind me knock on the infirmary door. A man in white lab jacket (the ship’s doctor, I presumed) quickly appeared, let them in as though he had been expecting them, and shut the door. That must mean the man who fell in the church has been brought aboard, then, I thought. God! I hope I never have to play the rĂ´le his poor wife is playing right now – and certainly not as a stranger in a strange land. But maybe he will be okay. They did revive him, after all.

Well, I was wrong. We learned later, via passenger grapevine, that the man, a Canadian, did indeed die. His wife opted to remain aboard with the large group of Canadians she was traveling with. From the same grapevine we heard that she felt she needed to be with friends. Funny (isn’t it?) how each of us copes in our own way. I would have wanted to fly home with the body, to be comforted by my children, and to, in return, comfort them.

The next port on our tour was Gydnia, Poland, from which we traveled overland by bus to Gdansk, where, thanks to Lech Waleska, that brave Pole, the communists’ death knell began its tolling and didn’t stop until the Berlin Wall came down and Communism departed the European continent. As we stood in the square in Gdansk before the Monument to the Fallen Shipbuilders, I thought of our own fallen man from Tallinn. Mostly, though, I thought of his poor wife, for the nightmare was hers. His trauma, sad as it was, had been brief. Hers would last to the end of her days.