I’m sitting outside a cafe near where I sat in with Mark and Dora on what I think was our last night in Athens in early November last year. We sat in the fading light talking and drinking coffee. I have photos of Mark and our friend Dora, him with his back turned to me, gazing towards the Acropolis following pointing Dora’s finger. In another they are standing together, the Acropolis in the background, both smiling, him with his arm around her, looking relaxed and happy.
It’s good to be here again. Last time I visited this city, it was January, two months after Mark’s death. I braved coming to this area, but didn’t stop – the grief was too intense. Then, I walked alone up the road from Monastiraki, taking in all the sights that came as fresh blows, feeling bewildered that just over two months earlier Mark had been so present. With me. Here. I saw the cafe that time, but didn’t sit down. When I think back, I am surprised that I could walk, such was the intense pain that seared in my back, my limbs, shrank my flesh and dried my bones, constantly reminding me always that he was gone. It hurt to remember how happy we had been the last time we walked side by side along the same roads, chatting and laughing and taking everything in. But then I turned right, into a road I had never walked along before, seeing new cafes and new places to explore – reinforcing the idea that was beginning to grow in me that while it’s necessary to revisit the past, remembering what is lost, deciding what can be salvaged, there’s also a time for walking along new paths.
Around me during that visit was all the anticipation and excitement of the lead up to the election. The question hanging tantalisingly in the air as to whether Syriza would form the next government. It was a stark contrast to when I first came to Athens in the summer of 2013, when the phrase I couldn’t get out of my mind as I walked around was ‘after the earthquake’. Talking one night to some friends in Konservokouti, they agreed that in the wake of the shocks that the country had been through they were not yet post traumatic. The trauma was still ongoing.
And now? The euphoria seems to have passed, but that’s hardly surprising. After the visionary moments, the wild hope, the process of transforming dreams into a lived reality begins – and that can be a difficult and costly path to take.
Today, I’m sitting in the sunshine, listening to the sparrows chorusing crazily. There’s sadness but, thankfully, that’s not all. I’m recovering from a period of bleakness, days when going on seemed impossible, and the pain of loss clouded any hope I had in the future. But sitting here in the sunshine, watching the birds scuffle in the dust, I’m happy being here.
These times of see-sawing between hope and loss, times when I am immersed in grief and pain, others when I find delight in discovering a new path and exploring somewhere new, all this seems fitting in Greece right now, where after such suffering and loss, there was an injection of hope – and now the work of trying to make the dreams a reality. Sometimes life is wild and hopeful, or simply happy and good, sometimes it’s full of loss and devastation, but it’s at these times, when the future we hoped for seems clouded by uncertainty, that we just have to keep on going.