A friend asked me if I celebrate Thanksgiving yesterday. As a vegetarian, I don’t find this holiday particularly appealing. Also, it’s not at all a thing in Greece, where I live.
Knowing that my father is American, she noted that some people celebrate their “home thing”.
I don’t even know what my home thing is. I’m more Greek than anything, but I’m an utter stranger here. It doesn’t bother me that much anymore :)
I was born in Greece, but because my father is American, I only have an American passport. I could have requested Greek citizenship at any time since turning eighteen, but I never found a compelling reason to do so1. So I’m an American who’s never lived in the US. And, except for brief stints in Amsterdam and Edinburgh, I’ve always lived in Greece.
I was a kid when I spent two years in Amsterdam. The multiculturalism I encountered there, along with the discovery of good books and weird internet sites, made me an outcast when I returned. If I hadn’t been strange before, I sure as hell was then.
My friend refers to people like me as being “hybrid”. I prefer a term I heard Richard Quest use two decades ago: “a bit of a fruit salad”. That’s what it feels like. Not one thing made of two things. Two things put together, while remaining distinct. Not a soup, a salad.
I’ve wanted to leave Greece since I was a teenager. When I was an undergraduate (still in Greece), one of my professors called Athens my Dublin, a reference to James Joyce’s Dubliners, a book in which everyone tries to leave Dublin but fails.
In the intervening years I’ve travelled some, but never managed to stay gone for long. Edinburgh, where I got my Master’s degree, was my most sincere attempt to stay away. But my graduation in 2008 coincided with the financial crisis. I ran out money and returned home.
I was angry for a long time. The way young men are. Like blood in a film, I knew that the anger was unreal, but it still made queasy. I remained angry. The way slightly older young men are. I couldn’t find a way out of that anger.
My anger was a cage and the cage had no door.
I was nearing 30 when I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn discussing mindfulness on NPR. His matter-of-fact approach to meditation, free of new age tropes, appealed to my pragmatic side. I put on one of his guided meditations and began practising. Haphazardly, at first. But eventually I settled into a daily practice. Over time you see things when you meditate. You figure things out. Or things figure out themselves.
One day I found myself out of the cage, unsure sure of how I’d got there. Only one explanation accounts for all the facts. I had invented a door, and the key that fit in its lock, and let myself out.
When people asked me whether I felt more Greek or American, I used to say that I felt European. I maintain a kinship with the ideas of Europe – those of Shakespeare, Montaigne, and their descendants. But with all the political and economic finagling going on, it’s become harder to defend such posturing. I do, however, bear the mark of Rosacea, a skin condition resulting in facial redness, which is exacerbated by exposure to the sun. Rosacea is a genetic gift from ancient Europeans.
Although I stepped out of my anger, I remain a stranger in Greece. I suspect I would be a stranger everywhere, but that’s not some terrible burden. It’s enough to belong inside my own skin. More than that, sometimes I can’t believe how good it feels.
Like when you turn your face to the sun, and the day is hot for the season and the sun also, and you hear familiar voices near by, and you inhale, and the warm smell of the world flows into your body. You still have Rosacea, so you’re going to regret this simile, but it feels so good to be as you are.
So even though I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I can be thankful for something. For the sheer, wild-eyed strangeness of being a human.
And there is at least one reason to avoid it. Greece is one of 22 countries where military service is compulsory. ↩︎
Photo by Peter Hershey [CC0].