When I arrived back to Switzerland, I didn’t talk about my time in Greece because I didn’t know how. It’s not that it was traumatic, or that the topic was an emotional trigger. It’s just that it was big; too vast an experience to really wrap my mind around. Not yet.
I need a day. Or two. Then you can ask me questions. Then I will talk about it.
That weekend, the Sunday paper featured full-page photographs of the refugees in Idomeni. It didn’t feel real, sitting in our tidy, quiet kitchen and looking at the pictures—beautiful, terrible pictures— of people and places I knew to be real, all flesh and sound.
There are things I don’t remember.
For example, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have to sniff my socks to see if they were clean enough to wear before I put them on in the morning. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take the leftover napkins from lunch and put them in my backpack to use as toilet paper later. I don’t remember the last time I thought twice about pulling on a musty donation jacket because it was cold out, or the last time I bought new clothes. I don’t remember the last time I wore makeup. And I don’t remember the last time I looked in the mirror other than brushing my teeth in the morning and at night.
When I write about the refugee crisis in Europe and Greece, I take my time. I try to avoid the overtly political, the preachy, the shock and awe. Instead I prefer focus on the deep channels and themes that underscore what is happening here. But today you should be shocked, and considering the last few weeks, you ought to be awed.
Today I want—I need—to tell you about the past week here on Lesvos. It is important that you understand.
When I sat down to put my thoughts to page late Sunday night, it was the first time I had stopped long enough to sit down, with the exception of three uncomfortable hours spent...
I want to run you through an exercise.
Imagine for a second that you are going on a journey. You are leaving your home with no intention of coming back. For all you know, your house will be burned to the ground with everything inside it once you leave.
What do you bring with you?
Close your eyes and consider: what do you pack? Lay everything out on the table. Are you reaching for clean underwear? Your photo albums? Your laptop? A favorite book? How many articles of clothing are you bringing?
You know your journey will take at least a month, maybe much longer, and you don’t know if you will be stopped somewhere along the way and forced to sleep outside in a field or not. You don’t know if you will have access to adequate shelter or proper hygiene.
I have never been very good with change. Ask my parents what happened when they tried to replace my antique, lumpy mattress with a new one, or make edits to the splintering swing set behind our house, or reupholster the couch in front of our television. Instinct takes over and suddenly I am digging in my heels and screaming at top volume about the charactered perfection of the old model, the unnecessary renovations to something that was perfectly functional before, and pointing out every flaw I can find in the new model.
I still maintain that the original couch fabric was retro. Like I said, change is hard.
So why on earth did I come to Lesvos? Our resident Pilgrim, Thomas, describes the experience as a Buddhist exercise in attachment. In order to survive here you have to let go of every expectation, because tomorrow will be so different than today. The moment you try and grab hold of something, it will turn to sand in your...