On my last day in Ikaria Thea took me aside in her kitchen as I was making my morning mountain tea in a little tin pot on her gas stove and she was heating up the goat milk. “Sarah, I need to ask you one thing. When you go back to Australia and you’re busy and in your life, promise me you will remember one lesson from Ikaria. The most important thing you’ve learned here, try to remember this each day.”
The most important thing. I knew what it was.
It’s best explained by this very Ikarian phenomenon which I touched on briefly here. Every day on every tiny, winding road, wide enough often for only one car, Ikarians pass by someone they know – on the street or in another car- – stop, wind down their window and chat. Animatedly, passionately and with love.
Traffic will bank up in both directions. But the other drivers never honk. They wait patiently, happily. Because this is what is done in Ikaria. It’s truly bizarre and took me a while to appreciate. I’ve been in the car and on the back of bikes many times when this has happened. I can’t understand what is being said during these middle-of-the-road chats. But I get the vibe and I’m told later what the gist was.
Traffic isn’t held up for gossip. The chat instead is more often to engage in the welfare of the other person. And it will continue for as long as it takes to connect with the other person and to convey one’s care. I’ve watched it many times now. It’s beautiful to observe. I’ve seen it in the street, too.
Two men will approach each other and hug. Really hug. And then hold each other’s arms and look into each other’s eyes and smile. They chat, they chat, they chat. Another hug. A big grin. And then off. “Ah! That’s my cousin. We haven’t seen each other since one month.”
The take-home, sound biteable lesson from this? The most important thing I will remember every day back in Australia?
Take time. Give the time required.
This is not the same as taking your time. As in relaxing, or going siga siga (slowly, slowly). It’s more than this.
The locals here like to share the importance of doing a panyeiri (local festival) properly. The most critical element (along with good wine and having your family with you) is “taking time”. I heard this over and over, but it took a while to get what they meant. I thought they meant to not drink too fast or burn yourself out on the dance floor too fast. Or perhaps it meant that it takes time to get used to dancing and drinking until sunrise. On my last night in Ikaria, though, I asked Eleni what she meant.
“Ah! You go and you must not worry what will happen tomorrow. This is important. For this night you must not think about your responsibilities. You must go with your family and friends and you drink and dance and you eat a lot of food and you enjoy being with these people. And only this. Nothing else. You must do this. It takes time.”
Can you see what they mean? They mean to dedicate time to this important social ritual. These panyeiri really matter to them. It’s not a mindless piss-up. Or just a fun get-together. As I wrote last week, it’s almost a spiritual event geared at bringing people closer. Connecting them deeply.
I don’t think we take enough time. We don’t stop to connect. We gossip on social media on the fly. When we party, we’re often looking for something, some sort of outcome. Or trying to forget something. Or we’re filling in time.
It’s a complete gear change to give time to people. With no other outcome in mind.
It’s a big challenge to consciously take the time – actually wholeheartedly set aside a big slab of day to connecting and committing to not worrying about our terribly important schedules and commitments.
We think this is irresponsible. As I write this, I’m aware that so many of us would think this. The Ikarians stay out to 8am…with their kids….for these village festivals. Often they’ll go to four or five in a month. Then work the next day, living with the consequences.
I’m possibly the worst person I know for not taking time. I get anxious when I’m held up on the street. Here in Ikaria I’ve been challenged on this daily. People want to stop me and connect with me, at every turn. And to ask me how I’m enjoying myself. In the moment, I get agitated. Antsy. I’m being held up from doing what I’d planned. I’m the same in Australia. Phone calls from friends when I am about to sit down to work, or eat dinner actually shit me. It’s rare that I can actually settle into a social situation and allow time to pass without thinking about what I’m doing next.
If I consciously take time, though, I can live my life differently. I want to live differently. I want to give more of my care, because after the event, when I walk off from the encounter, I’m always left wondering how the person is, wishing I’d asked and connected.
If I can’t set aside, or allow, these pockets of connection, what’s the point of this life? Don’t you reckon?