I’m sitting in a cafe in Kalithea. The first cafe I’d tried looked appealing – outside tables surrounded by gutsy-coloured orange trees. But when I walked inside the cafe appeared to be empty apart from a woman sitting at the bar who looked surprised when I asked for coffee. She said something to a man who I saw when I looked around the corner sitting on a sofa and smoking. He shook his head and looked reluctant, so I said not to worry and he looked relieved.
In an unfamiliar country you can easily miss signals or misunderstand them. But I worry less about things like that these days.
I had planned to come to Athens in December – the fourth, to be precise. Mark had been encouraging me to come out again as soon as possible, but for some reason, December didn’t feel quite doable and I decided to come out in January instead. That day, as it turned out, was the day of Mark’s funeral, the day we all said goodbye to him.
So now, I’m here, on schedule, but the hard fact is that Mark isn’t at home waiting for me. His absence is a cruel reality I have to adjust to daily, moment by moment and I’m learning to make adjustments all the time.
So here in Athens, I’ve decided it’s time to start writing again.
In the past two months, three experiences have suggested to me, among other things, that coming to Athens at this time was a good idea. One was in the excruciating early days after Mark’s death, when I spent time with some friends who live in Spain. We talked about Greece and events in Spain, including proposed new anti-protest laws and, for a short time, I was able to focus on something else and feel interest and concern. Another was some time I spent in Silverdale in Lancaster with a group of people talking about new political space. Another was an event during the wild days of grief, just two days before Mark’s funeral, when I went to Peterborough to an event called Love, Action, Art and Thought – Disrupting cultures and small acts of defiance. During those discussions I felt a small flame, an enthusiasm, a spark, although at times the pain engulfed me, and I felt I was drowning in profound sorrow. No matter how dim it was, that was a sign to me that I was alive and that it was important to me to be in that space, mentally and emotionally. To think and dream…
My relationship with Mark was foundational to my life and I know that it will take me a long time to mourn its loss, but I also feel a flicker of hope as I begin to re-engage with the world and begin to think about love in that context. I find myself wanting to re-engage with the questions I was beginning to look at before 15 November when I started this blog.
I don’t want to write directly about grief – it’s too raw and such a shifting whirl of emotions is best kept for my personal journal, I think. It’s an intimate process, requiring a deep re-configuration of my inner world as I try and rediscover some balance again. I do want to acknowledge, however, that despite all the enervating effects of grief – the exhaustion, the feelings that I’m going to faint, the days that I don’’t feel able to get out of bed, I do have felt a flicker of hope, of life… And that comes most often when I think about Greece, or the situation in Spain, about new political space, and by those who don’t have the privilege I have had of time and space and resources to mourn – the parents of the 43 students in Mexico who disappeared, the family of one of the women in Athens who couldn’t afford a day off work to mourn her when she committed suicide after she was rounded up in 2012, forcibly tested for HIV and exposed in the media – falsely – as a sex worker, before she was accused of committing grievous bodily harm.
I haven’t regained my old obsession with watching or listening to the news, however. Most of it strikes me as absurd. At a time when my survival is dependent on my capacity to go deeper, to many of the everyday preoccupations of the media strike me as so much blather. But I want to continue to write about the things that have remained important to me, even as I felt I was being swept along by a mighty current of grief, or buffeted by howling winds of pain and loneliness. Loss of this kind is an extraordinary event, yet it’s also very normal. I don’t think I can genuinely approach the questions of how we can make a difference in the world without in some way writing about loss and grief, because questions about change are essentially about hope. Often too, the dreams we dream are in the midst of the rubble of pain, despair and disillusion, so I think this process of mourning the past, lamenting the loss of dreams and stumbling towards new visions is one that is meaningful in the broader context of our lives.
We live in a deeply messed-up world, but I want to write about the things we can do, the kind of people we need to be, to make a difference. Although they are the same questions I wanted to look at before Mark’s death, I know the route I take has been profoundly and permanently changed. Some of the things I was thinking about looking at seem clunky, superficial and absurd. Life is not without hope, but it’s not without pain, either. And it’s from this place that I want to start thinking again about the Winnable Game.