Once you pass the age of 50 and keep growing, you hesitate about passing 60. You want to hover around that number. Make my age 59-point-95, like an item in a store — you know what its real price is but knocking off a nickel makes it more inviting.
Life can stop anywhere, and sometimes even time stands still.
We’re all individuals unique unto ourselves, but barring any misfiring of our synapses, we are more than willing to help our fellow inhabitants on this place called Earth.
And so it was on a recent trip with millennial family members on board a large, boxy rented Nissan with the appropriate model name of Quest that we headed to Nova Scotia.
Locked in a curse-filled, horn-blaring interminable stretch of I-95 in Maine, we made the Portland-to-Yarmouth ferry with just minutes to spare. (We were the last vehicle to board The Cat, a high-speed catamaran that ferries passengers and vehicles to and from Nova Scotia in under six hours.)
The passage was relatively quick with views of the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and a few seabirds resting on waves.
Evening was nearly past as the ferry slowed on entering Yarmouth’s port.
Fog floated like candy floss on the fingerlike stretches of land.
It was a zen moment.
Drop anchor, let’s all breathe in this beauty.
Nova Scotia is the way coastal Maine, hell, the East Coast, used to be before the chain hotels, burger joints and high-rise condos began eating up the views.
After a night in Yarmouth we were literally in our Quest to do a semicircle of lower Nova Scotia going along its east coast up to (the dichotomous, New World-Old World, hipster-loving provincial capital) Halifax and then down to Digby (The Scallop Capital of the World).
One requested stop along the way was to Peggy’s Cove, renown for its white-washed circa 1915 lighthouse set atop massive, ocean kissed boulders and the guiding light to the hard-working lobstermen and fishermen that call the village home.
Visitors come to the cove to take photos of the lighthouse, the colorfully painted wooden homes, eat lobster and walk dangerously close to the unforgiving ocean.
Overlooked by most visiting Peggy’s Cove is a memorial about a mile and a half north that stands as testament to an air tragedy and the unselfishness of those who ply the waters of St. Margaret’s Bay.
Along Route 333, it’s easy to miss the turn for the site. There’s just a small blue metal sign with white lettering: Swissair Flight 111 Entrance.
No one in our car remembered anything about the flight that took off on the night of Sept. 2, 1998, from John F. Kennedy International Airport heading to Geneva, Switzerland.
After walking the winding path to the memorial, what we read took our breaths away: “In memory of the 229 men, women and children aboard Swissair Flight 111 who perished off these shores September 2, 1998.
They have been joined to the sea and the sky.
May they rest in peace.”
There are three notches in the granite memorial to represent the flight number. But the notches also can be used as a rangefinder when looking out to sea to pinpoint the location of the crash.
It was that night, knowing only that a passenger jet had crashed seven miles away that the men of Peggy’s Cove, as well as their counterparts on the opposite side of the bay in Bayswater, sprung out of bed to their boats to search for survivors.
Unknown to these men was the fact that the plane — whose cockpit had filled with smoke due to faulty wiring — had hit the water at 345 mph, causing it to disintegrate.
According to news articles at that time, after the fishermen searched for debris and the government took over operations, the residents welcomed the victims families into their homes.
An adjoining memorial in the same shape and size honors the men and women:
“In grateful recognition of those who worked tirelessly to provide assistance in the recovery operations and comfort to the families and friends during a time of distress.”
After going to Halifax and Digby, we never returned to Yarmouth and that moment of zen, but perhaps we reached another level of consciousness thinking of the unselfish acts of those who searched the black sea that fateful night.