I know I am dating myself here, but how many of you remember growing up listening to Paul Harvey, a guy who broadcasted what I would now called a ‘radio blog?’ The show is still on, now run by his son. Some shows were news-based and others began with Harvey’s trademark sing-song voice saying, ‘Stay tuned, because you’ll want to hear the REST of the story,’ — spiking that one word in a high pitch. He would tell a somewhat elaborate tale, describing a person’s life history. Then he would zing you with the true identity of that person as someone we all know.
Okay, I’m no female Paul Harvey, nor do I want to be. But I had such an outpouring of hits to a little blog I did a few weeks back that I felt that I had to follow up to tell you the ‘rest of the story.’
The blog, called A tiny story provides an unexpected ripple effect was one that relates to my eBook/memoir,Climbing St. Friday, and it refers to how I proceeded to ‘vet’ some of the true-to-life characters contained within it at an attempt to ease my conscience over having presented them honestly and with compassion. Memoirs can be tricky for writers who find themselves walking a balancing act between transparency and sensitivity to those they depict even in semi-fictional terms.
One such person was my ‘dashing young Turk’ — an Omar Sharif look-alike that I swooned over in a memorable liaison as a young college student during my year abroad. His name was (is) Kemal, a smolderingly handsome dark-haired young medical student who loved American folk music. During our brief friendship (you’ve got to read the eBook to understand how this came about…) he memorialized my amateurish guitar-playing and Mary Travers-style singing on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. Once I returned to my college dorm in Greece we tried to stay in touch, but it was hopeless. Our backgrounds were more than just geographically miles apart; they were next to impossible to reconcile. And the language barrier was even more formidable. But I always like to think that we never forgot one another and that our innocent one week friendship would serve as a sweet parenthesis in our lives.
Searching Facebook, I realized Kemal’s name was such a common one among Turks that I would have to employ something akin to FBI tactics in the process of elimination. Gorgeous men’s faces were everywhere under his moniker, but few matched the vision I had of how Kemal may have aged. The one that made me pause was a salt-and-pepper-haired man shot at a bit of a distance, leaning against a fence. I couldn’t study his face very closely, so I searched what his public profile for clues as to whether I had hit pay dirt. And there, at the bottom of his profile was a link to a Peter, Paul and Mary song from the late 1960s.
I wrote a brief message to the man in the profile, asking if he remembered the winter of 1970, meeting a young American girl who played guitar. I dropped a few names of Turkish students I had met when I spent my holiday vacation with a schoolmate’s family in Ankara. He replied within hours, confirming he was indeed the Nicky Arnstein of my past (sorry, guys, only women might remember all the roles played by Omar Sharif that sent some of us into fantasy mode…).
We attempted to use Google’s online translator to communicate, but it was difficult. Many phrases and words in both Turkish and English cannot be translated, each culture expressing itself in terms the other cannot quite comprehend. We tried to bring one another up to date as best we could. I told him of my first marriage, my grown daughter and how my life changed for the better when I ended my relationship and moved on, being swept up soon thereafter by a wonderful man who miraculously seemed to be waiting in the wings. Kemal not only told me of his failed marriage that ended long ago, but also of his own adult daughter living far away in Istanbul. And he admitted to having kept that tape of my private concert for many years, playing it repeatedly. I was both flattered and shocked. Then I asked if I could send him the excerpt from my eBook that told of our meeting, hoping he could find someone fluent in English to translate for him. For a while, I heard nothing.
A few days later I received a Facebook message from Kemal, but it really wasn’t Kemal doing the talking. It was his brother, Mustafa, who had spent a considerable amount of time in the U.S. during his career. He was visiting his brother and related how he had been lovingly forced to translate everything we had Facebook-communicated with one another so far. He spoke shockingly good English. Mustafa went on to describe in the email how Kemal remembered me from all those years ago; how he wished we could have gotten to know one another better, and how my music had helped him through some down-times is both Kemal’s life as well as his own. I was deeply touched as I read the message that ended in a plea to meet Kemal for a long weekend in another large European capital, where the brother now lived. In an alternate (unmarried) universe, I pictured a scene from a movie, the two of us rediscovering one another’s faces in a crowd. But my reality was a happy one, having married my soul mate and reinventing my life as I never thought possible.
Suddenly the Facebook instant messaging box popped up. It was Mustafa who was using Kemal’s profile to chat with me. My heart began beating loudly, surprised at the immediacy of the Internet, now bridging a 40 year gap in my life as if I had just boarded the plane back to Athens the day before. We exchanged introductory phrases, after which Mustafa proceeded to tell me of his brother’s story. Now a well known physician in another part of Turkey, Kemal had been single most of his life, his marriage ending nearly 20 years earlier. I pictured the brothers as close, since Mustafa mentioned how they went fishing together on his boat in the Turkish riviera. I also noted Mustafa’s adoration of his grown niece. I told him of my path in life and how happy I now was, feeling nearly bittersweet in my empathy for Kemal, who had not yet discovered a true partner in life.
Mustafa then repeated his offer to fly us both to an in-between meeting place, this time inviting my husband as well. The awkwardness of it called upon whatever tact and compassion I could muster from the depths of my ability to communicate. I defaulted to describing how I would feel both hurt and a bit jealous if my husband were to travel somewhere (accompanied by me or not) to see a person who once made his heart leap. It’s not that I felt I would lose him; rather, I felt that a piece of him might still belong to someone else and that life’s challenges in the here and now were enough for even a good marriage to survive. I waited for a response, knowing Kemal was standing over his brother as he IM’d me.
Mustafa tapped the keyboard to express his brother’s reaction. “‘He says he would expect this of you and that how you answered him lived up to the vision of the kind of person he remembered you to be.'” Tears filled my eyes. What a miracle it was that I could become privy to the details of the life of a person I had unwittingly touched so long ago. And how often do are we ever able to learn the ‘rest of the story’ four decades later? My hope is that others can glean hope from stories such as this, giving new meaning to the way we come into and out of one another’s lives and how important even our most fleeting connections can be in the big scheme of things. We can affect one another with a word, a smile, a hug or even a song and life can be sweet. These small gestures can create memories that last for decades, just like mine did, and give us hope that even more small miracles at near at hand.
As I approach my 60th year, I am awed at both the fragility and power of life itself, at how each day can bring with it discovery, learning and excitement about what may happen as we turn the next corner. My thanks now go to the genius of the men and women who made this gift of the Internet possible, enabling us to fill in gaps in our lives while offering us a nearly instantaneous means to research and learn about the world around us.
Social media is more than a face and a profile on a computer screen, however. It is a means of connection between real people –a phenomenon we could never have imagined just a decade or so ago, drawing us closer and shrinking our world ever smaller.