A year ago today, I was about to leave my home for six months. The backpack I had borrowed from my daughter felt like a strange and cumbersome turtle shell, and I was looking forward to a quick stop at REI where someone would hopefully show me a few tricks on how to wear that thing more comfortably.
I knew my first stop: Italy for a Retreat. I knew my last stop: Mexico for two Retreats. In between? mostly a row of question marks.
My home was taken care of. My cat had a temporary human. I had a plan for my bills to get paid. And a huge backpack. And a bunch of question marks.
Before walking out of my bedroom, I left myself a note on the freshly made bed that would await me: Welcome home. And a little heart. I was not sure who would be reading that note. Me, most likely. But who would I be? And what if I did not make it back and someone else read that note?
A year later, with my insides rearranged a bit, my heart both slightly tougher and much more vulnerable, having walked the Greek streets that my ancestors walked, with a pretty good Italian accent and a sense of worship for olive oil, I don't want to go anywhere. I want to stay home and ... be. I want to sink into a routine and smell the fall air. I want to be home, a calmer home than the home of the big swirl of summer.
And yet. I know that there is another backpack waiting for me in my future. A much smaller one because I have learned how little I really need. There are people peppered all over the world and in Greece in particular that I will want to go hug.
Life and its invitations are so darn sweet.
When Life Takes Over
I had it in my mind that September would be a time of change for my refugee friends. The weather would start to get colder and I had remembered hearing about some UNHCR timeline to which I had set my internal clock. Something about a change in status, which could lead to a change in support. Usually these are immediate.
I had quietly decided that by the time September came around, I would have enough money in the Center’s informal Refugees Love Fund that I would be able to help them get settled into a small apartment in Athens, somewhere where they could start a more “normal” life, get a sense of Safety and Stability and also begin contributing in a way that would satisfy their 20-year olds reserves of energy. While they strongly resisted the idea of staying in Greece I kept my vision focused, knowing that it could very well be the only sane option they had. For now.
Well, it’s been a big summer. Much bigger than I would have chosen, had I been a bit more discerning in my management of the word YES.
Two Retreats back to back. One I facilitated and one I was invited to attend. I lead a Certification weekend. My mom’s illness worsened. All my kids were home. And then, I invented a community-wide Happiness Festival. Add the day-to-day stuff, and like I said, it was a big summer.
Most days, I spoke with my two young friends and all days, I kept my eye on the promise I made myself to help them move out of the camp before summer officially ended.
The weeks passed. Then the months. My quiet personal promise seemed less and less like something I could keep.
Some days we would talk about silly things and exchange photos, and some days the topic was heavier, such as the deep pain of never being able to go home, even when a dear relative of theirs was ill. Always in the background was a search for a solution, a country we may not have thought of, which would embrace them with a warm welcome. One theme that kept running through was that neither one of them wanted to stay in Greece. When they explained why, I understood.
Yesterday I received photos of 50 more tents having been added to the camp that morning to accommodate new arrivals. My heart was heavy. I did not have enough money to get them out. It would soon get colder. The asylum situation once more felt like a pressing weight on my brain. One to which I had no solution, immediate or not.
This morning, with them in Athens and me on my little island, we had a “serious conversation.” The kind where someone really asks you what you think, in a way that leaves no room for fluff or evasive answers.
I shared my true assessment, based on several conversations with immigration lawyers over the summer. I saw two options: either they allowed themselves to create a life in Greece for a while - outside the camp - or they found their way out of the country illegally. We discussed the risk of that second option and slowly, the first one emerged as a possibility that they would consider. For the first time, they allowed me to paint the picture of them living in an apartment, and working. I talked about “The Next Right Step,” and I think they heard me.
Greece’s 21% employment rate (40% for youth) did not bode well. The fact that I had little resources to help them move out of the camps did not feel good inside my heart either.
But for the first time in almost a year, the three of us were able to be on the same page and “see” a change, the same one, if only in our minds.
That was big step and because I believe in the Magic of intention and in the power of Life to deliver a perfect Form when we manage to reach full clarity on the Essence, I trusted that something would shift. Had to shift.
I stepped into the shower.
When I stepped out, a long message awaited me on my phone. The forwarded text of a message my friend had received while I was shampooing my hair and thinking of a way to make this new plan happen.
Between the time we came to an agreement on a potential vision and the time I stood dripping wet in my bathroom, a miracle had happened.
Someone, having noticed my friend’s kindness a few months ago and the way joy often bubbles up from her heart, was offering her a job. A job running a tea café in Athens, a place of gathering where refugees and international residents come to play cards, spend some time and enjoy community. With that job comes a small apartment and a salary in the form of food tickets. As well as some volunteers to help her. More than anything, it offers them a way to step into the next chapter of their lives. Out of the camps.
Just. Like. That.
To me, this is a beautiful hymn to the power of Clarity and the power of Surrender, too. An invitation to remember that it does not matter “how” something happens, just that it happen. A reminder of setting the vision, not letting it go, and at the same time getting out of the way.
September and they will be in an apartment.
Just the way I had promised myself they would. Not because I will have been able to send them a bunch of money, but because Life took over where my little humanness got stumped.
I know better than to think life will be all rosy right away. I lost that bit of innocence a while back. But I do believe with all my heart that this is the beginning of an important new chapter. The Next Right Step.
They leave the camp on Tuesday.
Crisp, Clean Air - and a Decison
Working from the Ballroom yesterday, I made the mistake of opening the window next to my desk for several hours. I wanted fresh air. I knew, somewhere, that this was not what was on the outside of the window frame, but I allowed myself the human-ness of delusion. After all, I had felt nothing for the last week of this intense smokiness. The sun was a perfectly round red-orange ball in the sky, the air was oddly still and everything looked a bit like a sci-fi film. It was strange and interesting. I felt no physical ailment from it at all.
But yesterday, I needed fresh air. And I worked for three hours straight next to an open window.
Then, just as I realized that my salad tasted as though it had gone through a smoker, I felt it.
By the time I left work, I was nauseated and headachy. The kind of yuk that even a plate of truffle French fries didn’t help.
Last night, I woke up gasping for air, coughing. It had caught up to me with a revenge.
Smoke in the air.
This morning, we have 3 times worse air quality than Bejing, China.
It’s no fun. It’s harmful.
And today, short of getting on a plane or embarking on a long road trip, there’s little we can do about it.
So, as I start my day and as I know that this terrible stuff is likely be the main topic of conversation in grocery stores, coffee shops and online, I am deciding right now that I need to not let myself get comfy with this easy subject matter over which I have no control.
I believe that my body listens carefully to the stories that my mind, my mouth and other mouths tell. And that it responds.
Today, I need for my body to believe in its ability to perform well, to take good care of me, even under unusual circumstances.
I need to have calm, powerful, grateful thoughts swim through every crevice of my mind and bathe my whole being in trust.
I need to speak and hear words of resilience and health.
I need to come back to me and to that place where all is clear and fresh and friendly.
As you go through your own day and receive offers to engage in varied conversations, I invite you to join me there.