The fog settled, thick and suffocating, as the marshrutka crested the ridge and dropped down towards Sighnaghi (სიღნაღი). What had been a lovely spring day turned gloomy; it was a matter of minutes before the town materialized out of the mist. I signaled the driver to let me out and set off down the steep slope towards my B&B. The air was pregnant with moisture, the stones slick beneath my feet.
It had been a rough week. I’d become bored of Tbilisi the week prior, and boredom allows the mind to wander. My thoughts had strayed to Cody, a very dear friend of mine who passed away this February. His death was devastating, and I still haven’t recovered. All the mental tricks I’d been using to stay positive seemed to have failed, and a deep malaise had settled over me. It seemed only fitting that my weekend in Sighnaghi, the Georgian City of Love, should take place shrouded in fog.
Cody and I knew each other a long time. The first memory I have of him is from second grade when we were on the playground. He was standing on top of the monkey bars — he always was athletic — and I was down on the ground when he shouted down at me, “You’re a butthead!”
Years later we found the story hilarious, and the sick playground burn would get bandied around as we teased each other. From that unpromising start, a friendship blossomed. My relationship with Cody, as well as Brandon — the other member of our ‘Three Musketeers’ — defined who I was as a person. The knowledge that he’s gone is soul-destroying.
I checked in to my AirBnB and set off into the town itself to explore. Everything was cold and wet — the streets were nearly devoid of tourists. It almost seemed like the city had been abandoned, the place was so quiet.
Sighnaghi is situated on a hilltop and contains a stronghold built during the reign of the Kartlian monarch King Erekle II. The remains of the fortifications encompass a section of the city, with 22 guard towers situated among them. The modern town has grown around the wall and towers, at times incorporating them. Sections of the wall are crumbling, with vegetation taking root and the interiors dilapidated and deteriorating.
Parts of it have been restored, however, and there is even a section where you can walk along the wall. I found this and scaled the nearest tower, using my phone as a flashlight as I carefully navigated the narrow, winding stairs. The view from the top was a total white-out, the fog too thick to see through. I didn’t mind, though, and enjoyed the solace atop my guard tower.
Several years ago, Cody came to visit me in South Korea. I was working at the time, but we took every chance we could to get out and explore my city of Pohang and the surrounding countryside, even heading up to the border with North Korea for the weekend. While there, we hiked Seoraksan, perhaps my favorite mountain in all of South Korea.
It was a windy day, the gusts making us stagger as we climbed up the exposed flank of the peak. The closer we got to the top, the stronger the wind became until it was downright dangerous. The Korean flag on the summit whipped and cracked in the wind, and my glasses wouldn’t stay on my face. Standing fully exposed to the gale was nearly impossible, as the force of it nearly knocked us down. And there was mist — a great river of it — flowing down over the adjacent peak and surging up over us. We felt like ants caught up in the current, watching the might of Nature roar by. We laughed and bellowed into the force of the elements, soaking in the moment…
It’s one of my favorite recent memories of Cody and his passion for life. He was such an inspirational guy — always driven to continually push himself and pursue his passions, as well as encourage others to do the same. His latest passion was the culinary arts, and he had approached that passion as an artist. His private catering business was taking off, and his social campaign ‘Create Something Beautiful’ was just beginning to take root when the unthinkable happened.
I’d tried to find solace in that phrase, and the ideal behind it. Create Something Beautiful. To identify my passion in life through meditation and self-awareness, then to pursue it with reckless abandon. To take pride in my accomplishments, and to be relentless in the pursuit of my dreams.
It had helped, for a while. ‘I’m doing this for Cody’, I thought to myself as I set off on my latest trip. Stay busy, stay positive, stay motivated…
Then, the boredom came, and with it, the memories. I found myself looking back at pictures of Cody and me, letting my mind wander to those memories of us being goofy kids together. Even the smallest thing was enough to trigger a surge of grief — a hospital scene in a movie, a particular song that reminded me of him, and so on…
I needed a break, I’d realized that Saturday morning. I needed to do something — to occupy my time and be purposeful. So I’d booked my room and headed to the bus station, filled with purpose.
My grief and unease faded as I wandered around Sighnaghi, the fresh air and new surroundings doing wonders for my mood. I found a small church and sat in the courtyard, enjoying the garden and the brickwork as I soaked in my surroundings. Georgians began to file into the building, more parishioners than usual, and I remembered it was the Sabbath. Soon, the sound of singing began to emanate from inside, so I eased open the heavy wooden door and stepped inside.
Georgian polyphonic singing is listed as a piece of ‘intangible cultural heritage’, and predates Christianity in the region. It’s fascinating to listen to, and there’s no better place to do so than in a Georgian Orthodox cathedral. The acoustics afforded by the stone chambers are amazing, and the overall effect will leave you with goosebumps. I closed my eyes and breathed in, feeling the sharp tang of candle smoke burn my nostrils. This… this was my passion.
Exploring new cultures. Experiencing new things. Making the most of my life, however short or long it might be.
There was a class Cody and I took together in high-school where we watched the movie Dead Poets Society. In it, Robin Williams teaches his class about the Latin saying, ‘Carpe diem’, or ‘Seize the day’. We were so inspired by it that we adopted it as our mantra and used it to push each other to pursue our dreams.
I think Cody embraced it more than any of us, so tenacious was he in pursuit of his passions — whether they be baseball, acting, the culinary arts, or the love he had for his fiance, Alicia.
When I left Sighnaghi Monday morning, the fog had lifted. I saw then the rooftops of the city I’d spend the last two days exploring — so different when seen in sunlight.
I thought of something then. The city itself hadn’t changed, merely my perception of it had. The fog had kept my focus inward, smothered and dampened my senses so that I could only see a few meters in front of me. Grief has had a similar effect, making me focus on the pain and loss instead of the bigger picture. And the way to get past them, both the fog and the grief, is with time and a little bit of sunshine.