Monday, October 24, 2011

Desert Mother

I have met a surprising number of people during the last few weeks. Going on the Saturday hikes, and doing an art class has really broadened my horizons.

Each time I meet someone, we go through the exchange of how long we have been in Greece, why we came, why we chose the area....and then there is a pause. I am furtively assessed - or not so furtively, depending on the person - and inevitably asked something along the lines of:

"You came with your boyfriend?"

A raised eyebrow always accompanies my negative answer.

"A few girlfriends then?" Apparently "a few girlfriends" = one male, on the scale of acceptable traveling companions. Which, to be honest and completely fair, is definitely quite accurate in terms of efficiency, safety, and map-reading abilities.

The other eyebrow is raised when I again answer in the negative.

"This is a family trip?"

Their jaw grows slack as they realize I have traveled here by myself.

In a last ditch attempt: "You have family here, then? You do look Greek. I should have thought of that right away."

As I shake my head, they usually begin to laugh nervously.

"Haha....Wow. So....that's really brave. Umm. Wow. SO....what made you do that?"

My first instinct is to wonder if I really come off being as incompetent and incapable as they seem to assume I am. Then, I have to admit that any female traveling alone into a country where she does not speak the language, especially if she is barely 5'3'' and still gets id'd whenever she tries to get a glass of wine, must come off as fairly bizarre. Or insane.

The answer I now give, accompanied by a rueful laugh is ..."I had a midlife crisis about twenty-five years too early."

They relax after that, because that is something they understand. Most of them have ended up here after some crisis or another, so they begin to equate my female child-looking traveling alone-ness, to their selling a house in London, in order to live in an olive grove and never flush their toilet paper down the toilet WHERE IT IS SUPPOSED TO GO.

I still have not recovered from that.


As time has passed - surprisingly and almost scarily quickly, one thing has hit me, over and over; it becomes bigger every time a new acquaintance discovers my alone -ness.

It is that so much of life only makes sense, or can only be experienced to the fullest, in the presence of other people.

For instance, when I am by myself, I rarely actually cook anything interesting, even though I love cooking. I will resort to a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal...over and over and over.....and over, rather than prepare a proper meal.

Why? Because cooking a meal and eating it is something that makes the most sense when there is more than one person. Eating should be a communal activity.

The same thing goes for sightseeing. It's incredible to look at the Acropolis, or to catch your first glimpse of a new town or city. But when there is no one around with whom to share your excitement with, it is as if the experience becomes a translucent fluttery thing.

It is in sharing our experiences and our thoughts that they are made concrete and given life.


I have also realized how much I enjoy doing things for people. I was so excited for my second art class last week, because I realized I had a group of people for whom I could make cookies. They were so thrilled when I presented them at coffee break; little did they know how much they were filling a desperate void.

I contemplated making bread for my land-lord, but from previous horrendous and traumatizing experiences where have simply tried (perhaps naively) to be nice and helpful, only to have it vastly mis-interpreted by the male on the receiving end, I didn't want to go there.

Which made me melancholy, and wish for the days when it was normal to be neighborly, and absurd to read gross things into the impulse to be friendly and generous.


All of this has led me directly to one undeniable truth.

I am not, and could never be a hermit.

Because I do need occasional long periods of solitude in which to re-coup, I assumed that I could handle going up into the mountains never to see human beings again, and be like the desert fathers, or something like that. And because I tend to lean towards the idea that God is only happy if I am miserable, I assumed that at some point, I would be required to swaddle myself in sack-cloth and sit on a stump being all holy and alone, eating mosquitoes and drinking rat blood.

Mary the Desert Mother.

But no. The point of life is to become the best of who we can be while using the gifts we have been given. And.....we are meant to be happy doing it.

I would make the worst Desert Mother there ever was. I know that now, and it took coming to Greece to figure that out.

What can I say...some of us just need a few more slaps upside the head.

No comments:

Post a Comment