New year epiphany in a burning world

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I've always found the New Year period a struggle. Perhaps it's part of being an unreconstructed Puritan? Perhaps it's the result of spending too many New Year's Eves coping with Greek men smoking like chimneys and playing cards very rowdily, of having to prop my eyelids open in order to drink warm bubbly at midnight?

Swirling smoke from extinguished candle on black background (Credit: neamov / Getty)I don't know, but even when young I never joined the excited throngs in Bourke Street or elsewhere. I've never been a party animal, and these days I am the spoilsport who retires to bed with a book at about 10pm.

This New Year season has been particularly bad, and saw me becoming a Twitter tragic so that I could keep up with the news of ever more disastrous fires in eastern Australia. I eventually realised that my compulsion to be constantly informed was a symptom of absentee (and survivor) guilt, because it often seems that when crisis strikes my family or my country I am missing.

I suppose some people will see that notion as egotistical self-indulgence, but it's the way I feel, nevertheless: there is a particular dimension to not being there, which is felt by many expatriates. But I also feel impotent anger at the amount of manipulation and chicanery that is currently going on at the highest level in Australia.  

And then fires of a different sort started up in the Middle East. Suddenly it all seemed just too much: one way or another the planet seemed to be about to be smashed to smithereens and blasted to oblivion.

However, on the day after Epiphany, a major feast day in the Orthodox Church, I found myself outside Kalamata's imposing Church of the Archangels, and went in to light a candle. I do this from time to time, although apart from thinking of friends in trouble, I must admit my thoughts and prayers cannot be said to be orthodox, with or without the capital letter. It must also be said that they are more like cheeky instructions or demands: Please make politicians X, Y and Z see some sense! And please keep them on the straight and narrow!

The church was still decorated with palm fronds on every pew and blue and white flowers forming arches over the day's icon. The colours of blue, the symbol of heaven, and white, representing the divine light, were everywhere. Golden urns containing holy water were next to the icon, for Epiphany is the occasion of the Blessing of the Waters: most worshippers bring a glass or jar to church, so that they can take blessed water home with them. This feast day is one of hope.

 

"We should live in the hope that the good people will have some victories, at least in some places and for some of the time."

 

I remembered my mother's oft-repeated injunction to concentrate on the good things. So I tried, and recalled that the dinner in Athens on New Year's Day had been a good and happy occasion: 11 family members were present, and my youngest grandson was thrilled to receive the lucky coin in his slice of vasilopita, the New Year cake. Orestes is only six, but I like to think he will remember his luck for a long time.

I had learned that my brother was packing his SES equipment while on standby for deployment to East Gippsland in Victoria. I had read of the generosity and resilience of ordinary Australians and the courage, self-sacrifice and determination of a multitude of fire-fighters. Then there was the hard work and impressive generosity of the Sikh and Muslim communities who had gone to fire sites in order to do what they could. I came up with quite a long list.

At the end of last year I moaned to an older and wiser friend, who lost no time in replying. She says she has always been an optimist, but at present tends towards a rather uneven hopefulness. Like most of us, she feels crushed by the villainies of the world, but is buoyed by the thought of the many admirable people battling the villains. Good things, good people.

My friend and my old mum were and remain right: we need to think, remember, and dwell on such positive matters. We also should live in the hope that the good people will have some victories, at least in some places and for some of the time. In 2020?

 

 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image credit: neamov / Getty

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, bushfires, Iran

 

 

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Gillian, your article reads like a letter from a dear friend! Thanks!! About Greek Orthodox churches: it is a beautiful and humbling experience to walk into one of these spaces so that's one incredible positive in your life. In Naples we were wandering around a bit aimlessly just enjoying walking when we came across a group of men playing cards at an outdoor table in a square. Talk about noisy with arms waving and cigarette smoke enveloping - it was amazing. So those Greek men at New Year's are another positive. Plus, your adopted homeland has an up and coming tennis player by the name of Stephanos Tsitsipas. I'll be cheering him on in the Aussie Open and I hope you will be too.
Pam | 16 January 2020


Thankyou for a healthy reminder to remember the good. I too found myself like many others addicted to news of the fires- grieving and angry in turn at the loss of life and tragedy and the political chicanery used to absolve from responsibility. This is not all there is- many of us need to hold this hope. Thankyou
Pamela | 17 January 2020


Thank you Gillian your letter made me think of the optimistic person I have always been, that is until lately with the bush fires we have lived through in our town with human loss of life a number of our brave and heroic volunteer fire fighters as well as the destruction of our environment and our beautiful and unique native animals. The recent death of one of my elder sisters and the hole that it left in my heart added to my feelings of negativity compounded by my very painful ongoing illness. However, over Christmas and New Year I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time with one of my daughters and her partner who lost everything in the fires at Willawarrin and a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren. One special day I spent with my granddaughter and her three children who travelled from interstate to spend Christmas with us. One special memory was my spending time with one of my grandchildren home from University for the holidays and some of my great grandchildren making patty-cakes . This day was so special it was like all of my worries had grown wings and just flown away. I will remember this day for the rest of my life and even though we can have down days it is a day like this that can make your spirit soar and put things back into perspective. Financial Issues, Family Issues, Health Issues and World Issues just disappeared through the simple act of really connecting with your loved ones and vowing to do whatever needed to be done to do everything I can to promote world peace and doing what needs to be done to make our incredible Nation a better place for future generations.
Mavis Jean Symonds | 17 January 2020


Thank you for your reflective article and thoughts Gillian. Yes, I also live in hope that good people will have some victories, at least in some places for some of the time, despite the frustration of seeing these fires burn whilst an overwhelming anti science sentiment continues from vested interest and the Murdoch press, and sadly even from our own prime minister and senior members of our government here in Australia, to the extent that we have become a pariah nation amongst others within the IPCC. Even voices of the good people like Attenborough, Flannery and Thunberg, have been ridiculed here by those who wish to kill the messengers. “Listen to the scientists” has been the advocation of Pope Francis, backed also by the clear clarion call of an encyclical letter while our world continues, shackled by vested greed is desperately clutching at what it knows best. However if our world is to turn its sleep walking pattern away from the precipice, we will need not just good people and their victories some of the time, but most of the time.
John Whitehead | 17 January 2020


Even as I read your essay, Gillian I can feel my own pessimism dissipating. That's the thing that keeps us going in the face of political extremism - the knowledge that there are so many good people out there on all sides striving to bring peace and calm - even in the face of ideology and perverted religious fervour. At the local shopping centre the newsagent commented to me about how good it was - the sudden rains more-or-less all over the drought and bushfire-ravaged south-east of Australia. A friend from some distance north, on a small farm - the artist and writer retreat they have carved out after years in south-east Asia - 88.5 mms of rain in one hour - a quarter of the total for the whole of 2019. The TV news last night showed people dancing in the rain - children and adults - and even the fair cattle with their calves - frolicking as they have not done in a long time. Dams taking in water - a stream beginning too flow again. As I walked back carrying my week-end newspapers I fell into step with an older man. Here 71 years ago from Newport in Wales - so, as he laughed to me - not a local! As his father said at the time - Newport lay 10 miles from Swansea in Wales and also 10 miles from Cardiff. Here in Swansea NSW they were still 10 miles from Cardiff (a Newcastle region suburb)...One has to smile. And he had been a ship's engineer with long stints in Japan as various ANL ships were constructed. We parted - both of us I would like to think - hearts lifted out of the gloom of Trump and Morrison and provocations in the Straits of Hormuz - lightened by the amusing ironies of life and our fellows. Thanks for the nudge in that direction, Gillian.
Jim KABLE | 18 January 2020


Another very truthful piece. There is no greater danger to Australia than its own fires. People & communities have demonstrated gallantry while the government shrugs its shoulders.
Stathis T | 20 January 2020


Your prayers must have worked Gillian...the rains came! What a catastrophe it has been and as far as I can tell it has not resulted in the changing of minds in the climate change denyers corner. Thank Heavens for those who care and try to do something positive.
Maggie | 21 January 2020


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