One of my favorite songs is called Re: Stacks by Bon Iver. The song begins with Justin Vernon singing that...
"This is my excavation and today is Qumran
Everything that happens is from now on"
Everything that happens is from now on"
I don't think I really had any clue what was meant by this until I went to Greece with Ionian Village. Qumran was the city in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It was a discovery that forever changed Christianity and validated it's relevance to many people. Just like the lyrics suggest, Spiritual Odyssey was my Qumran and from here on out everything in my life seems so much more substantiated. IV was the catalyst to live my life with greater faith, and with tremendous love.
A few weeks before I left for Greece, I was making arrangements to visit my grandfather in Athens while on my Ionian Village trip. It would be the first time I would see him since my YiaYia passed, and I was anxious to see him for what I felt would probably be the last time. My Papou was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my grandmother herself died last November, and although information was lacking on my end, I knew in my gut that things were not good. Nevertheless, I packed my bags and set off to NYC with Kate. We were scheduled to meet everyone and leave for Greece the next day, and I couldn't have been more excited. My dear friend Paul from my Real Break trip was kind enough to entertain Kate and me, and I was absolutely over the moon to see him. The evening was great, but when I returned to my hotel I received a call from my mother- My Papou had died earlier that day... and I had just missed my last chance to say goodbye.
Honestly, I was ,and am, completely heartbroken. My YiaYia and Papou meant the world to me, and it was because of them that I know Greek, and spent my summers in the most magical way you could ever imagine. I can't fathom what my life would have been like without their love and guidance. Losing my Papou so close to the death of my grandmother was a little more than I could handle at that given moment. So, in true 'Jenny' fashion, I sucked it up and acted as if all was well in my world. I wouldn't shy away from the subject, but I wasn't about to be emotional about it by any capacity on the trip. I can't say it was the easiest thing I've ever done.
Regardless, the next day I met everyone at the airport. (I guess I should say everyone but Fr. Jason, who's mother fell asleep in Lord a few days prior. My heart went out to him completely, and although I wished he could have been with us, I prayed that he and his family were able to find comfort in her passing.) After waiting in the airport for what seemed like forever, everyone finally arrived at JFK. We all seemed to hit it off really well, and half a day later, we were in Greece!
I guess it's not very often that you meet people that you will not only never forget, but will keep in your life forever. I have been blessed enough to meet two such groups of people in a matter of a few months. Real Break offered me an experience that will forever influence me, and Spiritual Odyssey offered another experience that solidified everything that I had learned in Constantinople. Better yet, at every stop on our itinerary, I pictured how elated my grandparents would have been to see me learn so much about my heritage and faith. I think if they could have met the 16 people that became my family, they would have been the happiest people in the world. When we were dancing in the streets of Thessaloniki, I could picture my Papou whistling and trying his best to get everyone to Greek dance with him. He would have been absolutely beaming. And when we visited the Monasteries of Meteora, I imagined my YiaYia singing a little tune about a bird high in the sky. I loved the sound of her voice! They were with us on every step of that trip, and for that I thank God.
As much as I wish I could have seen my Papou one last time, played one last card game, chatted on the veranda on last time, I know that for everything there is a plan. When Fr. Chris prayed a memorial service for my grandfather during our Sunday Liturgy, I definitely got a little emotional. In reality, I wasn't crying because I was sad. I was crying because I was so touched and truly, truly honored to be surrounded by the people I traveled with, and have them offer their prayers for my Papou. In retrospect, I think God wanted me to remember him at his finest; dressed in his daily suit, with a gold pen in his pocket, and a gladsome bit of rosiness on his round cheeks- The same cheeks he gave to me. I think this is why things worked out the way they did. I have to believe that.
What I really have to Thank God for isn't for the things I saw, or the places I went... What I have to thank God for is the people he has brought into my life. I can hardly think of a moment in which I wasn't laughing hysterically in Greece. We were such a mismatch group; the New Yorkers, the Southern Belle, the Cali girl, the Midwestern PK, the tanned Floridians, the Ninja, the small town and big city New Englanders, and of course.... the Okie best friends. I don't know how we became such fast friends, (let alone understand each other half the time on account of our dialects) but we certainly did. I never once felt at a loss for something to talk about, and when things were silent, it was often in reverence of something that I will probably never get to see again. Everything was so effortless between us all. I also have to extend my most sincere appreciation for the kind way that everyone treated my parents in Athens. I hate to speak for them, but I think they were relieved to see that I was enjoying myself with such an amazing group despite the recent circumstances. I'm so glad that they had the honor of meeting everyone.
When I think about it, one of my favorite things about my faith is the emphasis it places on relationships in the Church. I was always taught that the closer we become to one another, the closer we become to God, so it's my fervent prayer that we continue to stay in touch and can meet again very soon. I love you all and thank you for the most unforgettable trip. It meant, and still means the world to me. It will always mean the world to me.
Again, I leave you with the verse that I shared on our last morning in glorious Greece...