The Tears That Did Not Fall
A month ago I was packing my bags for what I know was the biggest adventure I've had to date. A month later, I'm sitting at the Thessaloniki Airport, enjoying my last bit of genuine Greek food, waiting to take the second of seven flights to eventually get me back home to Portland, OR. Once I get back to Portland on Monday, I have 4.5 days to catch up on what I've missed, pack up what I need, and say my farewells as I leave for San Francisco on Saturday for 5.5 weeks of training. Yes, it's a crazy schedule. Yes, I chose to do it this way. No, I don't regret it (at least not yet). And maybe it was on purpose, so I could jump from one hustle to another without giving myself too much downtime. Because downtime means time to think, and reflect, and to process--some things I'm happy to do that with, others I don't want to. Yesterday was an emotional roller coaster of a day. It started with heartfelt hugs and loving farewells to people who went from strangers to friends to confidantes to partners in adventure. It's incredible how quickly and how deeply you can connect with people, especially in circumstances and the environment that we were in. It was the kind of goodbye where you hug, and say bye, and don't want to let go, but eventually do, and then you hug again. Those kind. While I know that we'll all never be in the same place again, physically or emotionally, I have full faith that we will meet again someday, somewhere, somehow. You can't escape from me that easily--and you have your cards to redeem! The tears almost came, but they did not fall.
After my last 'See you soon' hug, it took all of 3 minutes to check-in at the Mytilini airport which afforded me the opportunity to take a walk outside by the coast. This is the coast where I had spent several nights doing boat patrol. It's the same coast that we had welcomed boats of newcomers to safety. It's the same coast where we gathered under a dazzling sky, sometimes with a beautiful moon, sometimes with a shy one, and bonded with fellow helpers. It's the same coast where we sat in silence and prayer, waiting to hear back on a distress call. It's the same coast from where you can see the silhouette of Turkey on the horizon. I couldn't help but think about all of the people who have, who will, who want and who need to make that voyage across the sea in hope of a better future. Again, the tears almost came, but they did not fall.
From my window seat, I was able to catch a pretty killer view of Mytilini from up above. I could pick out the restaurants and cafes we frequented, and the building where people sought shelter, and the travel agencies that we developed relationships with (the ones who didn't rip off refugees by boosting their ticket price), and the coast guard ships that were picking people up off the boats in the sea to safely bring them in to the port (a new development as of a few days ago). And then, in the middle of the sea, with Mytilini in the background, there was a ferry ship. I'm not sure where this ship was headed, but I know it was full of people--some that I may have met or helped or treated--who were continuing on their journey towards a better future. I almost lost it then, when I thought about all that they have been through and all that is still ahead, but the tears did not fall.
After landing in Thessaloniki, I was greeted by a friendly face and a sign with my name on it! (It's only happened a few times, but I giggle like a little kid every time I'm picked up by someone with a sign with my name on it.) I had arranged with Tolis, my taxi driver to the airport when I was in Thessaloniki last, to pick me up again this time. As we made our way to my hotel, he asked me about my trip and for the first time, I found myself sharing my experience, in person, with someone outside of the island. The conversation took on different moods. First it was gratitude to have the opportunity to help and to be allowed to help. Then came frustration that people were forced to make a dangerous trek when opening up the borders would allow for safer, less expensive, and easier passage. We talked about the role of egos, the role of humanity, the role of kindness. It was a good conversation, one that had its moments, and still the tears did not fall.
We got to my hotel, and shit almost hit the fan. I had booked my hotel room for the wrong night--not the end of the world, but definitely an expensive inconvenience. And I was getting hangry. So I had Tolis take me to a place to eat while I got on the phone with hotels.com to see if something could be done. Tolis, bless his heart, felt terrible that he had to leave me to go pick up another client. He was extremely helpful though, offering suggestions on places to stay and simply being a sympathetic ear. He refused to take full payment, giving me half of my money back because I might need it for a new room. He also arranged to pick me up the next morning, even though all of the taxis in the city were going to be on strike. He knew how important it was that I make my next flight and how difficult it would be for me otherwise. He was willing to take the risk to help me, essentially a stranger. The kindness of essentially a stranger was overwhelming and made me tear up, but they did not fall.
After ordering what was going to be my last meal in Greece (moussaka, tzatziki, a Greek salad and a Mythos) and getting disconnected from the hotels.com support team three times, I was finally able to get through and share my dilemma. My rate was nonrefundable, but they managed to make an exception and find me a room for the night. Tears of relief came to my eyes, but they did not fall. A friend saw me tweet about it and supported me in a good cry, which almost did me in, but still they did not fall.
I got to my hotel room, checked in, and pretty much collapsed on my bed. What a day. What a trip. I catnapped the night away, waking up because of bad dreams. Before even leaving on my trip, I had given thought to what the challenges were going to be. The biggest one in my mind, the one that you can't really prepare for and just need to take as it comes, is what happens upon your return. When you come back to your 'reality' after having seen a different reality. I'm fairly certain I'm an empath; I pick up on other people's energies and emotions and have a way of taking them on myself. I don't always express them, which means I keep a lot inside (though I share way more than I have in the past--baby steps!). Knowing this, I knew that there would be a lot of things I would see and hear and experience that in the moment I would be okay with (sometimes things move so fast that there is no processing time, you just move from one thing to another), but once the hustle and bustle was gone, there would be time to think and process and digest. And cry.
A lot has happened over the past month. Some of it I've shared with you, there are still many stories that are unwritten that I want to tell and there are some things that can't be communicated or won't make sense until and unless you experience it first-hand. So how will that carry over? I'm not sure. In the words of a friend who went to help in the south post-Katrina, "Just take your time and please GO EASY ON YOURSELF. You know the true (a different) human condition and from this you will probably grow to do even more amazing things. It will come in waves but the beautiful thing is when it comes, even though your giving bits and pieces of stories, you are scattering a piece of you and your experiences around and end up planting seeds. Be patient with your self and tell your story every time you feel compelled to, and don't when you're not."
So here I am. Thinking. Reflecting. Sharing. Processing. Being. The tears may fall on one of the flights home, they may fall after I get back in the comfort of my own home, they may fall as I watch from a distance the incredible work my fellow human beings are carrying out in Lesvos and other islands, they may fall when I'm sharing my experience with someone, they may fall when I have a trigger, big or small--or not. We'll see.