Empathy

Tuesday, 01 March 2016 16:40

 From plowing the earth to the modern metaphor of cultivation, civilization and culture have been as close as butterflies in spring. Many of us assume that our civilization is the epitome of this union. We consider ourselves ultra-civilized – more cultivated than the Aztecs or the Visigoths or the Byzantines, or the denizens of the next country, or our fellow countrymen. In truth, we may be more advanced, but not less barbaric. The best of us recognize artistic value, can spot the false note in a classical music concert, consider salmon and avocado staples, and refrain from beating their partner and children. This is as far as our cultivation goes, which is not bad for such an aggressive species. But is our civilization – well – civilized? Unfortunately, that would also require us being less bloodsucking than our ancestors. It would mean throwing empathy into the equation.

 At this moment, there are seven thousand people stranded at the Idomeni border. People who wait for hours in line for a sandwich and a small bottle of water. There are sick people, with no medication. Without tents, in February. Thousands arrive each day at the Greek islands and the port of Piraeus, and thousands have lost their lives at sea. As the border is now closed, there are no buses to Idomeni for those who finally make it to the port. So, they walk: That’s five hundred and fifty kilometers that you can cut down to four hundred and sixty, if you follow paths instead of the highway.

But what can you do? If you won’t offer what you have in excess, if you won’t pressurize governments or awaken people in order to deal with this growing humanitarian crisis that is only bound to get worse, if you won’t stop supporting people, ideas and institutions that not only lack empathy but thrive in the multibillion-dollar business of war and devastation, then, please, just accept the truth about our civilization: We are nothing but a bunch of costume-wearing primates in a violent, power-gathering frenzy, and all the talk about evolution and beauty is just a superficial cover-up for our unchanging nature.   

Published in thoughts

Migratory Birds

Thursday, 21 January 2016 23:07

You could hear crickets on Christmas, on New Year’s Eve, tonight. They haven’t stopped at all this year. I can’t recall this happening before. Is this a farewell song?

The lemons are ripe in the backyard and I can harvest the ones on top by reaching out from the balcony. Nevertheless, the small-boned Mr. Aiantas, the aged Albanian mathematician who tends the garden, has left a shopping bag full of lemons at my door today.

I’ve left before – many times. But I’ve never felt so homesick, especially while still being here. Am I losing the wisdom of knowing that you carry your past with you? The certainty that the ‘end’ is a human construct? Have I grown resistant to change – have I grown, indeed, stiff?

I don’t know what it is that ties one to a place. I could never identify as Greek, until I lived far from Greece. Definitely though, my Greek identity has nothing to do with moussaka and syrtaki, or – as of more lately – laziness and debt, or whatever it is that may be tied like a bell to the neck of the nationality scapegoat.

My Greek identity has everything to do with having been exposed to a variety of cultures from an early age and therefore having been granted an open-minded, curious and unrepressed disposition. One could argue that this is more of a personal identity rather than a national one – in other words, a character. Is it, though? Looking back at the history of what came to be the Greek people, one sees an infinite merging of cultures and a nomadic tradition of seafarers, immigrants and refugees, and I can positively view myself as a coming down of that line, without having to look farther than my own ancestors. So this, the country that shaped me, is the country that my family and I are now leaving, and probably for good.

We’re not fleeing a war, although many will reasonably support that what we’re experiencing is of a different sort, yet a war. At least, we did have a choice: My husband has a good job here and we live in comfort. But isn’t choice the belief we’d like to nurture? My chances of getting a decently paying job here are more than slim, there is no chance of setting money aside for our toddler’s future education, needing hospital care is out of the question and getting retired at some point an unlikely prospect. True, these are mundane worries, but some aspects of life are mundane and you can’t turn your back on them, unless you have your problems solved or you embrace reclusion with what it may bring, which we haven’t done – at least not yet. Still, I’m leaving this place reluctantly. And this is not because I love it.

In fact, I want to leave. There is a popular saying among the Greeks, that “Greece eats her children.” I have seen this happen. It is true. This place is like a bad mother: It leaves you unattended when you need protection and sends you out to the world begging, just to grab your earnings at the end of the day. Most Greeks admire and love their country, just like a three-year-old looks up to a beautiful and manipulative mother – but most eventually grow up, often abruptly, crushed by dogmatism, calculating authority and injustice.

What makes me sad about going away is probably the understanding that people are people, as oneself is oneself. You can’t really get much freer or happier in cases like mine. I don’t expect to find salvation, communication, understanding. New, different things will piss me off, wherever I go. It saddens me to realize I am prepared to endure subtle racism and abide by uncountable sets of rules. But I will conform with ease. It’s a fair deal, if it means that my son will escape catechism in school and, later on, conscription. In the end, who knows, I may come to like, even love, this new, colder mother, and even find a novel sense of freedom in the foreign embrace. For now, I’ll just pass on enthusiasm. The birds in me are still caged.

 

 

* "Boat" is an 'inexact copy' of the Alexis Akrithakis' painting. It was an exercise against my neurotic perfectionism and was meant to be hanged in our living room. It took me a good while to finish, but, just before the hanging, the expatriation news came.

 

 

 

Published in thoughts

Jasmine dream

Tuesday, 06 January 2015 02:14

 

Into the glowing land of vivid dreams

the winding roads smell of white jasmine

brought in by sirocco’s dusty blows

taking me back to abiding memories.

                                                        

The winding roads smell of white jasmine

perched on whitewashed walls and open doors

taking me back to abiding memories

to romp and race with friends until nightfall.

 

Perched on whitewashed walls and open doors

lizard me waits for the cool of day

to romp and race with friends until nightfall

before the moon ascends the starbound sky.

 

Lizard me waits for the cool of day

squinting towards the far and fiery West.

Before the moon ascends the starbound sky

fearless, I will leap aboard a roving ship.

 

Squinting towards the far and fiery West

with a jasmine bud behind my larboard ear

fearless I will leap, aboard a roving ship,

into the glowing land of vivid dreams.

 

Published in poetry
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