Digging into the archives for this post on the importance of community and friendship. Seems appropriate after we all, hopefully, enjoyed a nice weekend with people we care about.
Let’s enjoy a beverage together.
You are my guest, my friend. Follow me into the banquet room of polished hardwood floors and high ceilings, and tall windows to let in the ample sun. Let me hand you a paper cup of kafe — there’s cream and sugar, if you so desire. Feel free to grab a glazed donut, or a chocolate filled, if that’s your preference. Step amid the crowd — silver-haired elders, middle-aged mothers and fathers, young children and older siblings all clad in their Sunday best. Take in their smiles, their nods of welcome, find seats among them at the round tables where conversations are carried on in the mother tongue. News from Greece transcends the Atlantic — stories of political happenings, of family life, cultural traditions, exchanged between sips of coffee and cookie nibbles. Share a laugh, tell a tale of your own. Feel the welcome, savor the smiles; you are one of us.
A prominent theme in my forthcoming novel, “Wings of Wax,” is community — the importance of being a part of one, the desire to find a place within a close-knit group. The book’s shy, stammering protagonist, Angelo, seeks to reconnect with the local Greek community in Oakland, California, to which he lost his ties after his father moved back to Greece when Angelo was a teenager. Much of the story showcases Angelo’s often comic misadventures as he attempts to combat an inherent sense of loneliness and forge true connections — to women, to old friends, to family.
Upon “Wings of Wax”’s release, readers will surely wonder how much of the story is based on my experience. Angelo — like myself — is the son of a Greek-American mother and a native Greek father who eventually returned to his homeland after their divorce. In addition, Angelo struggles to live with a chronic medical condition, as I have. In those respects, Angelo and I share commonalities. But I can’t say I wrestle the same feelings of alienation. Perhaps, when I was in my twenties more intensely did I experience a certain loneliness while struggling with dating and building confidence in general. Now, however, on the brink of turning thirty-five, things are quite different.
Today’s trip to church — the parish at which I attended services sporadically throughout childhood, but now visit on most Sunday mornings — Oakland’s Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral, inspired this post. Sitting in one of the pews, gazing up at the grand ceiling mural of Jesus fondly regarding his congregation — all those people by which you are warmly surrounded — you can’t help but feel a part of something larger than yourself; and not only in the spiritual sense.
The Greek Orthodox churches across America have long been community centers for Hellenes. Since the times of early immigration from Greece, people have utilized the parishes not only as places of worship, but to maintain and strengthen ethnic ties and cultural traditions. When she was alive, my maternal grandmother — my yiayia — attended church most Sundays. Just between you and I, I think the reasons for her frequent visits weren’t motivated as much by religion as they were friendship. The coffee hours following services provided a place to catch up with old friends, savor tight bonds. People still recall my yiayia, who passed in 2007, as a lady of impeccable class, warmth, and style in ever-so-chic, customarily earth-tone garb. She is well remembered and loved by her friends.
If life is made up of fleeting moments, we must cherish them as we cherish our friendships. I’m fortunate to have many comrades with whom I share a significant history, knowing them since I was a young child. I thought of them fondly after church this afternoon while I sat at table of elders who appeared to have long-fostered ties. What is a community, if not a circle of friends? What is friendship if not a bond formed by common interest, mutual respect, and a mutual desire to lift one another to the highest potential?
Amid my community I’m always inspired to create, to write; but above all to spread genuine kindness, to enrich other peoples’ lives, to do better, and be better; to prepare another seat at the table so there is always room for one more.