Kolympari, Greece – the island of Crete – the last week of May 2017
Clear, warm, calm sea and sky
After three months of traveling and then living in my house here, it’s time to resume the posting of journals. The break in writing has been refreshing – time
spent looking and listening and walking around with my senses on alert without
the pressure of writing about what I’m experiencing. As I prepare to leave,
I’ve been sorting through what memory has kept – the events worth sharing.
Here’s an example:
Early on a cold, rainy, dreary Sunday morning, a man sits in a chair in the deep darkness of a small side chapel off the main sanctuary of the church of the old Monastery of Gonia.
He has retreated there during the morning liturgy to escape the distraction of the traffic of the coming-and-going habit of the Greeks all during the service.
He’s also sought a chair to sit in because the chanting of the liturgy in ancient church Greek has made him sleepy, and he would rather nod off in a chair than while standing up as the Greeks do. Slumping down to the floor during the liturgy would be in bad form.
The man is not Greek – nor an Orthodox Christian – and he doesn’t comprehend the language of the liturgy. He experiences only the spiritual atmosphere, and the sense of touching base with the ritual of acknowledging what is essential-but- inexpressible – even in archaic Greek.
The man nods off into semi-slumber.
His reverie is mildly disturbed by the sense that something is crawling onto his lap.
What? A cat? A dog? A snake? An old widow Lady?
Semi-alert, he looks down to find a small boy, perhaps three years old, perched on his knees. The child snuggles up contentedly against the man’s chest and dozes off.
The mother smiles shyly at the man across the candle-lit semi-darkness.
The man smiles back.
She must be glad to be relieved of a squirmy little boy so restless in church, and is content to leave well enough alone. The man seems harmless and kind, so . . .
Lest he upset the child, the man folds his arms around the little boy, and soon joins
him in peaceful slumber, while the liturgy falls around them in sonorous waves.
Time stands still.
When the liturgy ends, the child’s mother gently taps the man on his shoulder, and just as gently picks up the still-sleeping child in her arms, smiles her thanks, and leaves the chapel.
After the service, the man meets the woman and little boy in the patio outside the church. The child is still half-asleep in her arms.
“I hope you didn’t mind holding my little boy. He must have thought you were his grandfather.”
“Not at all – it was a pleasure. Do I look like his grandfather?”
“No – neither of his grandfathers is alive – he never met them. He only imagines what a grandfather must be like. Like you, it seems.”
The man, of course, was me.
I see the memory now as an image in my mind, and hold it dear.
I, too, had no living grandfathers.
I, too, always wished otherwise.
My own grandchildren are grown up now, and my great-grandchildren are far, far away in time and space.
The little boy’s need and mine coincided in this Sunday morning moment.
This experience happened in March.
I have not the seen the little boy or his mother since.
But it remains an ongoing joy to have been selected by a child to be his grandfather.
I will not forget.
When he is older I hope his mother will tell him this story.
I wish I had told her to be sure and tell him that, while it is true that I held him in my lap, he also held me with his affirming trust.
And it is also true that he holds me still in my heart.
I went to church wanting something I could not name.
Something to hold and keep – something sacred.
And I got that.
The blessing of a small child who saw me as a refuge for a while.
He needed a grandfather – and I needed a grandchild.
The basic rule of the larger sense of family applies:
If you can’t be with the ones you love, then love the ones you’re with.