The Fighting Téméraire
Explained My Nostalgia to Me

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a conversation that I had with a statue of Confucius. I had called it a day when the statue started to talk to me. I chatted with Confucius sitting on an old cedar chest of one of my grandparents. However, on the wall above the chest and Confucius hung my favorite painting, The Fighting Téméraire by William Turner.

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Apparently, The Fighting Téméraire wanted to exchange some thoughts with me after listening to the conversation that Confucius and I had several days ago. So, even though it was getting late, I consented to chatting with The Fighting Téméraire. It started off with an obvious statement from the painting, "You certainly love Turner's depiction of me going to dry-dock; don't you?" I told the painting that while I was in college, I was a teaching assistant in a course called The Arts. It was a required course taken in either one's junior or senior year. I took it while a junior and was asked by the professor to be his teaching assistant during my senior year.

The painting added, "Essentially, Allen, you took that class twice." I agreed. In addition, I taught several subsections each week, wrote, and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters. It was the best learning experience that I had while in college. In the past couple of decades, I taught many art history classes. I'd teach art history 24/7 if I had the opportunity.

The painting said that it knew that I also taught my two young grandchildren art history. I told the painting that when Jack was three, he wanted to know what I was doing on my laptop. I told him that I was teaching an art history class online. That began Jack's love for the arts.

The painting replied, "Three seems like quite a young age to want to learn art history." I told him that I was surprised also. Jack is now six and can rattle off several dozens of paintings and their artists. Interestingly, Owen has followed Jack's interests in painting. I told the painting that Jack loves Chagall's I and the Village and Owen is into anything van Gogh painted. Additionally, ask either of them what my favorite painting is, and they will say The Fighting Téméraire.

I continued to talk about Jack and Owen's interest in their own drawing to which the painting responded, "Pablo Picasso said, 'Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.'" I agreed.

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Then I asked the painting a question about my love for the arts. A part of my interest in paintings is that I am right-brained. However, I wanted to understand more fully that artistic drive within me. The painting said that I seemed interested in more than just the painting but also the history. I told the painting that the history aspect is important to me. In fact, on New Year's Day of 2015, I went to see the movie, Mr. Turner, which was about the life and times of Joseph Mallord William Turner.

We talked about the history of the HMS Fighting Téméraire. The painting said that the HMS Fighting Téméraire was a great 98-gun ship, which had been the second ship on the line in the Battle of Trafalgar early in the 19th century. However, three decades later, in 1838, that great ship was being tugged to dry-dock at Rotherhithe on the Thames and cut up for scrap. The painting then added, "The Fighting Téméraire was the greatest ship in British naval history, and it was broken up for scrap. How sad. The loss of that ship caused Turner to paint me the following year. In 2005, the British voted on what they considered their greatest painting in their country, and I won."

I agreed that it is sad that The Fighting Téméraire wasn't saved. Nonetheless, Turner was moved to paint me as a way of commemorating the past. I then added that perhaps that is why I loved the painting so much. The British Admiralty couldn't return the past nor can we return to what once was but isn't anymore.

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That kind of offhand remark certainly engaged the painting. In a nanosecond, the painting asked, "Have you ever taken Greek?"

I told the painting that I had two years in college and two years of exegetical Greek classes in graduate school to which the painting asked, "Can you remember the root of your word nostalgia?" I felt caught off guard and couldn't answer the painting, which didn't matter. The painting already was explaining the derivation of nostalgia. "It came from the Greeks compounding two Greek words: νόστος, which means homecoming and ἄλγος, which means pain or ache. In many ways, nostalgia is similar to melancholia, which is also from the Greek words, µέλαινα χολή."

Interestingly, I told the painting about Q is talking with 007 in front of the painting, The Fighting Téméraire, used the term, melancholy. Apparently, both Q and the painting knew their Greek.

My response was that nostalgia explains both Turner's and my desire to return home as life marches steadily into tomorrow. I feel more nostalgic as I get older.

The painting returned to Turner. "Turner was a painter during the Romantic period, which essentially was from 1800-1850. The world that Turner experienced was facing the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and the raise of science."

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I agreed with the painting's recounting of the history of the time, but it continued, "Allen, you have danced with death twice. Nostalgia is a normal feeling, which, in your case, is accentuated by the dances. You are caught on the horns of dilemma. You want to go back on the one hand and on the other, you realize that you can't, which is painful. Correct?

I agreed sadly. I am dammed if I do and dammed if I don't.... The painting's retorted, "So, what are you going to do?

I told the painting that my choices of action are limited. Interestingly, Randy Pausch was in a similar situation. He gave his Last Lecture while dying of pancreatic cancer. He couldn't return to a brighter day of the past and his future was quite limited. That caused him to come more alive than he ever was before. I understand his response to live life to the fullest.

The painting inquired how I was living life to the fullest to which I replied, "I don't know what I would do without writing. If I didn't have writing to explore my life and plan for the future, I would implode emotionally.

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The painting agreed, "Your writing enables you to live. I don't deny the benefit that your essays accord you. Nevertheless, there are three people that you talk about all the time...and write about them all the time. Jack, Owen, and Ti Ti are your grandchildren; aren't they? The two boys live in Indy and Ti Ti lives in Myanmar. You met her while traveling in that country. Actually, you spent less than a couple of hours playing Scrabble with her, but she is, in your mind, another grandchild about whom you care."

It took me several moments to pull myself together emotionally. Fortunately, the painting allowed me time to collect my thoughts. Then I said, "Perhaps I can't go home again, but I can help those three young grandchildren have a happier time as they journey down their yellow brick roads of life."

This is an interesting video regarding the HMS Fighting Téméraire.

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