Look back. Go back.

The Fisherman always says—so I assume it’s an Italian saying although it might just be his—“Look back. Go back.” He means, if you practice the ritual of looking back as you’re leaving a place you love, you will be there again.

Raised on heavy doses of Greek Mythology, I can’t help but think of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and I wonder if maybe he hasn’t gotten his own much more rigorous classical training confused. (He’s a son of the ex-Roman empire for God’s sake. They take their classic literature and its antecedents very seriously.) Or maybe he’s just ignoring it.


Orpheus and Eurydice, by George Frederick Watts

If you don’t remember the story of the lovers tragically separated on the day of their wedding, let me, well actually Wikipedia, refresh your memory (the underlining is mine):

In her efforts to escape [a] satyr, Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief… travelled to the underworld and… softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone…who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following, and, in his anxiety, as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever.

It seems then, that at least in literary terms, looking back is a no-no. It prohibits you from moving successfully into your own future. Ditto in real life, I’d say. Unless you can look back with a non-longing remove, the past is likely to lure you out of the fullness of your own present tense. I have a hard time with this, personally. The past is so easy to embroider, simplify and quite frankly rewrite. You can remember events unwinding with a seductive perfection that didn’t actually exist at all. Looking back is dangerous enough; doing it with rose-colored glasses is calamitous and addictive.

But back to the Fisherman’s good-bye ritual. So strong is his conviction that no ill will befall us as a result of the over-the-shoulder glance, we all look back intently until what we’re leaving vanishes out of view—around a corner or beneath cloud cover, depending on our mode of transportation.


Saturday we said goodbye to France. I bid a heart-heavy “until next time” to every single object in the house that I love. Dark corners, emptied drawers, the bathroom mirror, the antlers with the mistletoe, the spider by the door. And then, outside, to the ramshackle potting bench I built two summers ago, the compost pile and the wintering plants. Personal goodbyes doled out silently, wordlessly along with those pregnant glances that beg each and every thing to “stay safe.”

We packed into the car, lugging our last items, and we looked—back. At the house. At the gate. At the rain falling. And then it was all of Burgundy diminishing into a rear-view mirror until next time and me hoping that my Fisherman was right. There is something powerful in believing—hoping—something so strongly that eventually you know it will happen as you foresee it.

Forty minutes down the road, we remembered that we’d forgotten to shut off the gas in the house. We turned around and went back—wish fulfilled in the way we least expected it.

It was a long day.

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6 Responses to Look back. Go back.

  1. cecilia says:

    When I leave Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, travelling North,(North is where the plane is that flies to LA) you drive up through the hills and when you reach the top there is a point where you can look back very quickly and see straight across the bay to the bluff that we lived under. It is a family tradition of ours to always look to the bluff from that spot. We never stop the car or anything, it is just a risky neck cricking at speed glance through the hills across the sea and to Home. But I always make sure to do it. Dad said if we did we would always be able to find our way home. And so far, I have always been able to find a way to get home.. Thanks Gods (my godmother always says that) you remembered to go back and turn off the gas! c

    • that sounds sooooooo beautiful. it also sounds like your Dad had the same feeling my husband does. “Home”…I think that’s the most powerful and loaded word in my personal vocabulary.

  2. dayphoto says:

    I had to chuckle…but on the same hand, I’m thankful that you REMEMBERED the the gas! The next time you come it will be spring…everything bright and ready for you to feel refreshed and connected to the land. The land…how I need to stay connected to the land. But you know that about me, already!


    • I wish we’d been chuckling. It’s such a long slog of a drive, having to go backwards just feels so wrong! But you know how it is, we’re laughing about it now. It would be smarter just to laugh immediately and get on with it! I know you’re connected to the land! One of the things I love about your bog is when you write about not just your close surroundings but the lay of the land all around you into the distances as far as you can see. The mesas, the high areas, the low area…it reminds me of Indian myths I used to read when I was a girl. I loved those stories.

  3. Gerlinde says:

    Years ago when we were in the mountains I looked in the back mirror of my car as we were leaving and there was my dog running and trying to catch up with us, the poor thing. He was very happy when we stopped and invited him in. They have been times in my life when I wasn’t sure if I had turned off the gas or hot water heater and I had somebody check on it. I’m glad you remembered to turn off the heat.
    I am bidding a final, heart- wrenching goodbye to my mother’s belongings and her apartment.
    You write such beautiful post that a very comforting to me , thank you.

    • This story about the dog is very touching. If you hadn’t looked back it would have been tragic for him. When dogs wag crazily upon the return of the owners, Italians say that they “fanno la festa”…they have a party. I’m sure he was celebrating inside and out when you stopped the car. I wish you strength as you go through your mother’s things. I have done that for my father. Every object is a story, isn’t it? A remembrance. I found that even after his passing, I got to know my father better as I sifted through his belongings with my brother. He had been deeper and wider and more interesting than I had ever realized. I am sorry for your loss. I hope you can carry her with you in the best ways.

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