Monday, April 22, 2013

Let Me Tell You The Story

You may or may not be aware that I was posting all of last week while eating breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel in Athens, Greece. I don't know if that impresses you or not, but it does me. The last time I was in Greece, as a boy in the early 1970's, if we wanted to write something to someone back home, it was via letters written on tissue thin paper so that it wouldn't cost too much, employing the technology of air mail that sometimes took up to 5 weeks to complete the delivery.

People try to tell me it's not true, but the fact that I can even write paragraphs like the one above is evidence that I'm getting to be an old man. And please don't think I'm pitying myself, because I'm not. I've long looked forward to being a guy with some experience under his belt; with memories to comb through for anecdotes and stories and life lessons and all that other stuff that can only come from having already lived for decades. In college I once went into a drug store looking to buy the gray hair dye that I hoped would lend me some gravitas, only to be told by the sweet woman behind the counter, "Oh honey, they don't make gray hair dye. Who would buy it?" No, indeed, I've earned every gray hair in my beard and I'm now living in the time of life most suited to me.

I was in Greece to give a speech at the invitation of my friend John who is the founder of the Dorothy Snot Preschool in the heart of downtown Athens, a place where I met dozens of kindred spirits, teachers, parents, and others who share my love and respect for young children, and who want nothing more than to see them have the opportunity to play, to learn, to begin to collect the stories they will tell when their hair starts to go gray. Maybe some of them will remember the time a strange man in a red cape came to play with them in school, and whom they sent away to his distant home bearing gifts they'd made for him.

As I spent my week amidst both ancient and living history, I was aware of myself as a character in not just my own story, but all the stories; not just from my own half century, but of all the eons that people have walked the earth. I would come around one corner and see the ancient Parthenon above me, representative of the enduring greatness of Athens, only to round the next to find graffiti-art, speaking of its painful present. And around the next I might then be face-to-face with one of the promotional posters of myself in full Captain Superhugger regalia.

I re-visited my old neighborhood, Kifissia, a place that as a boy I'd known as a simple village of bakeries, kiosks, butchers, and groceries, now replaced by Ralph Lauren, Sephora, and Louis Vuitton, our age's universal markers of the prosperity of a certain social class. The next day I was caught up in a march of thousands of men and women, all even older than myself, and certainly with more stories to tell, protesting the austerity measures that have impoverished their sunset years. I ate traditional kid and lamb as well as hot dogs wrapped in pita and stuffed with french fries.

I told my stories to the children at Dorothy Snot, in English, then they tried to figure them out. In turn, I tried to figure out the stories they were telling me in Greek. I told my stories in meetings, in interviews, at gatherings, and over meals, and listened to the stories others told me. And even as we told our stories and collected new ones, I was always aware of being a part of the larger never-ending story of children and mommies and daddies: stories of life and death and play and love.

Officially, I was there in Athens to tell my stories in an auditorium that was once a part of a now defunct gas plant, in a neighborhood that is in the process of being transformed from an industrial area into a district of trendy nightlife. Three hundred people came out to listen, on a Friday night no less, and then turn the tables and talk back to me, asking questions, challenging me, and sharing parts of their own stories. 

We are born, we live the stories, we tell the stories, and we listen to the stories, then we find eternity as characters in the stories that those we have touched tell about us. That's how forever works: let me tell you the story.

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Yiannis said...

i was fun listening to you Tom. Thank you for being such an inspiring guy. Please check out the book I mentioned to you at the break by Aletha Sloter Attachment Play: How to Solve Children's Behavior Problems with Play, Laughter, and Connection.
Keep up the good work :)

philos said...

Thank you so much. Not simply for testifying your experience here in Athens, but mostly for opening your thoughts as you do in a daily basis for your students and your school, connecting the images you collected during a week with your main ideas and philosophy for life.

Your philos, Christos!

Laura said...

I had to lol at you trying to buy gray hair dye. :)

Daphne said...

Thank you for being here!
A big hug!

Aspa said...

It was such a pleasure having you in Greece Tom. We feel richer after having met you. Thank you.

Alexandros said...

Thanks for coming and talking about kids, play and democracy!