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Back to Athens

Parthenon, Athens, GreeceThere is something wrong. In three days I will be getting on a flight to Athens and I am not feeling any of my pre-journey anxiety that normally would have me waking in the middle of the night in terror. Maybe I am just getting used to it after twenty or thirty years.

What was the fear all about? Was I afraid of dying? Well everyone is afraid of dying at some level even if they don't want to admit it. But I have read enough spiritual books to have a pretty firm belief that something like me goes on after my body has ceased functioning (or in a worse case scenario is ripped apart by weasels or some other extreme cause of death).

And if there is no afterlife then so what? What is so bad about nothingness? It's just like going to sleep and not dreaming and not waking up.

I don't believe there is a hell or some place worse than here (unless it is just an extreme form of guilt about the terrible things we think we have done or the things we meant to say to those we cared about but never got around to it.) I don't believe in sin, and that there are things you can do or say that will cause eternal damnation and you have to hang out forever with Hitler and Judas and whoever shot the Kennedies or a bunch of suicide bombers and mass murderers. I mean even if there is a hell what have I done that would put me in such miserable company, besides being born human?

Maybe my anxiety was because I was afraid of change and going from the known to the unknown. But after twenty years the unknowns have become quite known and the things I thought I knew I realize I don't really know at all. So either I am not afraid of change and plunging into the unknown or I have realized that life is so unknowable that getting on a plane and flying to Greece is no more frightening than going to the supermarket and buying a different brand of toothpaste or going back to a favorite restaurant that you stopped going to because the last time you went the waiter was rude or the food gave you gas. Anything can happen anywhere at anytime so to be afraid of something specific seems wasteful.

I am aware that some things have changed. My friends in Greece have gone through hard times. They have probably gotten tougher, those that have not just given up, and while me and my friends in North Carolina struggled with the usual relationship problems and the traumas of living in an affluent society, my Greek friends have been wondering where they will get money to eat or if they will get paid before their company closes for good, or they have to deal with family members on the brink of suicide because life seems hopeless. When I see them they will have gone through an experience that I have merely read about. And even though we will be sharing the same ouzo and meze, and swimming in the same aqua seas and feeling the same warm Greek sun on our bodies, there is a part of me that realizes that for them it is a well deserved break from the angst of day to day life in a struggling society while for me and a few million others it is another holiday in Greece.

Probably there are a lot of people who feel apprehensive about going to Greece. After all, the last few years we in the USA have been bombarded with images of riots, burning dumpsters and stories of poverty and corruption. These sometimes outweigh the images we have in our minds of the mountains and the sea and people who over the centuries have been able to smile despite hardships that we can only imagine.

Wars. Poverty. Starvation. Dictatorship. Occupation. Financial collapse. You name it and its happened in Greece. So in a way just visiting Greece is a way of saying to my friends "I'm still with you. Yes things are fucked up but the sun is still shining and the sky is still blue and the children still laugh and play in the sea and Rolando still makes the world's best mousaka and there is still nothing that tastes quite as good or feels as healthy as a horiatiki salata with mizithra cheese on it like they serve it in Sifnos and we have been through hard times before and have gotten through them".

Maybe that is the reason I am laying here at 3am and not angst filled. Maybe I feel like I have a purpose. I realize that telling myself that going to Greece to eat, drink, swim and see my friends sounds a lot like when George Bush told us all to go out and shop after 9-11. But the last few years of financial hardship has been Greece's 9-11 and Great Depression rolled into one. And if going to Greece and spending money will boost the spirits of my Greek friends and help the country find its way out of this disaster then it must be one of the most gratifying ways of giving ever invented.

Not that this is the reason I am going. I go because that is what I do every year. I go because maybe next year I won't be able to go. I have been thinking that for over twenty years and numerous crisis on both sides of the Atlantic and every year, sometimes two or three times a year I have gotten on that flight. I have friends who have been saying they want to go back to Greece every year for forty years and they still haven't gone. Every year has its own reason for not going. Usually it has to do with time or money but on years where neither is an issue a family crisis or general calamity has caused them to cancel their vague plans. Maybe it's a habit. I'm in the habit of going and they are in the habit of not going and whatever is going on in Greece or at home does not have all that much to do with it.

Beach near KalamosIt's hard to explain that kiss the ground feeling people like me get when we arrive in Greece. It's beyond the feeling of coming home. It's like being high on some kind of drug that makes your heart feel happy and you have the profound realization that you are alive. Even laying here in my bed in NC it makes me smile to think of that feeling.

I'm thinking that I will get on the plane , take one of Andrea's sleeping pills, and wake up on the descent into Athens. When George or one of his drivers pick us up we will go straight to the beach, maybe Schinias or else somewhere nice beyond Varkiza. I will have my first summer baptismal swim, lunch and then go to the Attalos to sleep for a couple hours. Wake up and have a drink at the bar, then go drag Pandelis out of his shop to Cafe Evi or Taverna Psiri where all our friends will gradually join us. And no matter how shitty a year it has been, we will all be happy.

So why am I not anxious? I can't figure it out. Maybe it was the chamomile tea.

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