I thought this day would never come.
I sit here writing on the ferry from Athens to Naxos, having returned, finally, to the country that changed my life.
Eleven months ago when I returned from Greece, I felt like part of me was missing. It was if a piece of my soul remained on the patio of Archondissa pension restaurant on Thasos, and I could feel her staring out at the Aegean Sea, drinking frappe, pondering the mysteries of life, while I—back in America—mourned the loss of the island and of myself.
For eleven moths, I ate imported honey with Greek yogurt and used only Kalamata Olive Oil to dress my salads; I “swiped right” on people named “Paris” because the only other Paris I’d ever met had been a musician in Greece (and it turned out this Paris was also, in fact, Greek); I listened only to the Greek CD’s that my friend Demetri gave me; I cancelled my Netflix subscription in order to spend the evenings with Rosetta Stone; I enrolled in our university’s Modern Greek class; and I attended Greek dancing lessons on Thursday nights.
In short, I went crazy.
I didn’t think it would be possible to wait a year to return because the pain was too sharp. And yet somehow—like the ocean beats against the rocks of the shore—time smoothed away my jaggedness, and I became human again.
Without acknowledging my solution, not even to myself, I began planning. Even when the psychic* stopped mid-sentence and said, “Are you moving?” I did not agree that was my plan. But it must have been, from the moment I arrived in Boston, and it became a reality sometime around December.
*the first one
I had applied for a Rhode Island writer’s fellowship, which would have allowed me a generous amount of money to write, and in my application I said I wanted to write about Greece—but I needed to write in Greece because that’s where my inspiration was.
Demetri, my CD-donating, Greak-American friend (whom I met on Thasos) also applied for a writing fellowship** to be used in Greece. We had grand plans of retuning to the land that left its mark on us, in different but similar ways, and spending a year writing about it. Ironically, the day I asked him if he would go to Greece regardless of whether or not he received the fellowship—he said yes, and I said, Okay, me too—was the day I received my rejection letter. It was as if the universe wanted to verify my commitment before shutting me down.
**a different one
As soon as one’s days are marked with an end, time rushes ahead again.
As the months continued, I obtained my certification to Teach English as a Foreign Language, and I started my second semester of Modern Greek, and my second level of Rosetta Stone, and I finished editing a doctoral thesis that would pay for my return to Thasos. And I began admitting to friends, a select few, that I was thinking of taking an extended leave of absence to go back to Greece.
The unanimous response was, “I figured as much.”
Followed by, “I think it’s amazing, and you should.”
Thus, time sped forward, calendar pages flipping, counting down my days of saying goodbye to a place I love, in order to explore the possibilities of a new place.
I once read a story in which the author asserts that “firsts” are always known, marked, photographed, noted. Our first words, our first steps, our first recitals, our first graduation.
But our lasts are often given no ceremony, no recognition, until they have passed and exist only a memory; it’s hard to plan ahead for lasts.
Ever since I read that, I’ve been acutely aware of noticing lasts: the last time I ate black raspberry and peanut butter cup ice cream from The Lincoln Creamery, the last Saturday spin and pump class combo with Erin, the last Home Group, the last time I shut down my computer at Brown. These goodbyes were different from leaving Greece, and offered a different kind of breaking—one of sweetness and of gratitude. For all of the people and places and restaurants and beaches and talks and laughter that constituted the last three years of my life.
The “live each day like it’s your last” platitude is not about yelling, “YOLO!” and throwing hesitancy to the wind. It’s about marking your time with full presence and appreciation. One doesn’t have to move to another country to practice living each day as if it’s her last—it’s a way of not taking our time for granted. Even the mundane becomes sacred when it’s gone.
When I told the infamous Tassos of Thassos I was returning, I said, “Νὀμισα ὀτι αυτή η μέρα δεν θα ήταν να έρθει ποτέ,” which was my attempt to say, “I thought this day would never come.”
He replied, “But you see it came very quick.”
“Time only seems quick when looking back, not when looking forward.”
And, in truly wise Greek words, he said,
“Quickly or slowly is passing. Important is to pass beautiful.”
Because of the community I have found, my time in Rhode Island has, indeed, passed beautifully.
C.S. Lewis concluded in his Narnia series (a series to which I likened my experience on Thasos) with a blessed promise that, “every chapter is better than the one before.” I hope that for all of you, quickly or slowly, every chapter of your journey passes beautifully, and better than the one before.