May 19, 2014

The Look in the Eyes of Greek Women

If I were to try to express what is, to me, the real Greece, it would be in the eyes of older women.  Two older women today brought me to near tears because of the depth of the look in their eyes.  I cannot dare photograph them because it would be an intrusion into their souls and it would be a betrayal of what was exchanged between us.

The first is a woman who keeps a small market down the road from my house.  She is slow and sits quietly in the dark corner near the cash register just behind the door as you enter the store.  The markets are crammed with goods and you have to go sideways down the aisles to clear the clutter. I’m told that her son died a few weeks ago at age 45 of multiple sclerosis.  Some people may live much longer, but on Serifos there are generally no doctors, no hospitals, no treatment centers.  If you get sick, there is every possibility that you could die.  People could die here of an appendicitis attack. Of course, you could die in a hospital too.  Life makes no guarantees.  Many people have sicknesses and are healed by faith.  There are numerous stories I’m told of such happenings.  But this man died at a young age.

The woman lives upstairs from the shop.  She is as wrinkled and old as currants.  Her white scarf covers her white hair and she wears all black sweater and long skirt.  When I went in a few days ago she was not there and I asked the man at the counter if she was all right.  He said, yes, of course, she is upstairs.  The reason I asked that day is that I heard when her son died, she completely wrecked her apartment, throwing all of her dishes at the wall, destroying lamps and everything she had in her terrible grief.  But this morning she was there.  This was my second time to look her in the eye.  Greek women look into your soul.  We had a sweet exchange.  She smiled and thanked me for my purchases.  She gave me the change and forgave the 40 euros because she didn’t have the coins to pay me back.  So I looked into my purse and found 50 euros.  She laughed and then slapped another 10 euros change on the counter.  We both laughed.  I'm just being as honest in my debts as Socrates, after all.  With that, she touched my arm to say thank you and gazed in that deep way that tears you apart.  And then I touched her hand too.  So simple, so deep, and unforgettable.

The second woman is the woman who swims every day out, out, out into the sea.  Of course, the sea here is not dangerous.  There is no tide or undertow to sweep you away.  But still, she swims alone and I suppose, she might as well die out in the sea where she is enjoying herself as well as die on the land.  What’s the difference except that we’ll mythologize the event and make something of it because she went out and never came back.  But it’s that she does it even today when it was cold and raining.  She just walks directly into the water without hesitation.  Still in the greyness she went out.  We were in the school yard when she returned from the beach and I immediately recognized her because it was yesterday that we encountered one another on the beach when I was playing with the stones and making a tribute to Hermes.  When she approached today, the others immediately called to her and she came over.  I went to her to shake hands and said my name as she also recognized me.  It was the look of the sea in her eyes that swept me away out as far as she herself had gone.  Such contained and exceptional self-knowledge is how she seems to me.  She knows herself and she carries her being in her life on this island.  She does not have to go anywhere else. She has no itching search for anything else and yet her life appears deep and complete.  No doubt she has her suffering.  Sometimes the one who has suffered the most has the sweetest and most beautiful countenance.

This is the Greece that I will completely remember.