Tears glisten in my eyes. It’s the same way I came, a few weeks and a lifetime before, and the same way I’ll leave. I adjust my heavy shoulder bag crammed with random camera chargers and Kuria Maria’s homemade cherry pita, given to me with a warm smile before departing the island of Paros just yesterday. The sun is at its peak in the noon light, and it glimmers onto the shining, white floors of terminal B9, as I breathe out a sigh laced with sadness, contentment, and happiness. Eleftherios Venizelos Athens Airport has the scent of home, with both the promise of an adventure and the closing of one. It is the passage between hello and goodbye. Ellada mou…my Greece…After all these years…all these flights, layovers in Zurich, Frankfurt, or Rome marking the change from one world to the next, I can never get enough of you.
I study the head of the woman in line in front of me as we wait to board, and wonder if she is leaving behind her heart, as I am mine. A small smile plays on my lips as I suddenly remember the kind, older gentleman playing the uplifting notes of traditional songs on his clarinet at the harbor one day. I took one look into his eyes and saw his soul, and had no choice but to weep. I mentally inscribe words and thoughts to fill my notebook pages the second I can put my bags down. The airport diaries.
My dad and his siblings left behind the only country they knew and immigrated to the U.S. from Greece in the 1950’s. My mom was born in the U.S., but her grandparents came from Greece generations before. As a Greek-American, I loved my childhood family trips, but fell in a deep, irreversible love with it at sixteen, and have never been the same since. It is a place where magic comes to life. It is love, light, and beauty, exploding with bursts of culture, history, and a twinge of pain because of the depths of its beauty and the turmoil it has seen. For me, Greece is more than a location on a map—it’s my home, my roots, and my deepest love.
Growing up in Boston there were two worlds: “here,” and “there.” One world I lived in during the fall, winter, and spring, and the other, in the summer. As I grew, life became more complicated, realities set in, and the worlds became more difficult to juggle, balance, and separate. The line between what was doable, feasible, and realistic for someone trying to move forward in a career, start grad school, or build relationships became more complex. “Eheis ena podi edo, ena podi ekei…duskolo” my theia (aunt) would always sigh, as I sat cross-legged at seventeen in the kitchen peeling potatoes, in the July heat of Athens. This phrase, “You have one foot here and one foot there,” is the pinnacle of never fully being in one place. It is the deep emotion, experience, and heartache of missing the place where your heritage lies, and people you love, while living in another. An affliction I would never wish on anyone. Years of moments lived across the across the ocean, before Skype, imessage, Viber, or Facebook. Missing Easter in the horio (village), my cousin’s college graduation, or my godchild’s birthday. But a love amongst my dad, his siblings, and my cousins which spanned the distance, despite time zones. After many years, I grew into a solid and stable understanding of who I was, in order to jump back and forth between two opposing countries and cultures for half a lifetime.
As I got older, others were quick to place their two cents when it wasn’t always asked for, for a life that was different from theirs and a passion they didn’t understand. Sentences started with “you really need to…,” followed by a statement of advice which they thought would benefit me and show me their age (often times not much older than mine), wisdom, and experience. I began to dread the question, “Why don’t you just move to Greece?” as if it was that easy to make a lifelong decision in your early twenties, when you don’t even know what you want for dinner that night. As if it was that easy to pick up, and move across the world with a family who relied on you, no real job experience, and the Greek economy which was on the verge of bankruptcy and didn’t hold many opportunities for young people. These comments would often be laced with underlying narratives of “how much I travel,” never bothering to acknowledge the fact that I rarely took weekend trips, went to concerts, or had an apartment. That I sacrificed an abundance of things, deeper than that of monetary value, for something which was far more important.
Now, after half a lifetime, I’m less sad and more eternally grateful. I spend less time defending and more time accepting. It’s ok if people don’t understand, because I do. I did not choose this, it chose me, in the most beautiful way. I am deeply blessed to have something which is equal parts pain and joy. A country of opportunity and education that I was blessed enough to be born into, and another country which has my whole heart, for my whole life. My aunts, cousins, and friends which make Greece what it is. Its people who have given new meaning to my life, color to my writing, a new depth to my soul. Lessons in relationships, forgiveness, independence. A world of cuisine, land, and sea. Beauty in the simplicity of a moment, because it is fleeting. A second which becomes that much more astonishing due to the quiet ticking of a clock in the background.
I buckle my seatbelt and brace myself as the plane slowly ascends, leaving behind the faces I love and the aqua depths which fill my lungs with life. Immediately I feel displaced. Like a plant whose roots have been ripped, whose sole way of retrieving water has been torn and destroyed. But I’ll do it again. The going, the leaving, the sadness, the riveting happiness, the inexplicable love. Because it’s where I belong and it’s worth it, every time.