Death and rebirth of a migrant


Judas treeEaster is meant to be a time for reflection, but this year I feel I didn't have the right focus during Holy Week. My focus was on myself and my grief, although you'd think I'd be used to the pain of the divided heart by now.

Towards the end of March I said goodbye to my eldest son, to my aged father, and to the city of my birth, Melbourne, which I had been visiting for more than three months. Then I flew the long hours to Athens, arriving in a morning blur of fatigue mixed with joy, for in Athens I was reunited with my youngest son, and shortly afterwards telephoned my middle son, who lives near Chania, Crete.

Alexander and I returned to the Peloponnesian village for Easter, to the house in which we have both lived on and off for nearly 30 years. But part of me was still in Melbourne, watching the change of colours, hearing the trams rattling and clicking their way along leafy tunnels, walking familiar streets, seeing the striped sails of yachts against the blue of the bay. Talking to my son and father and to my friends. Especially that: part of me was indeed still talking to them all, and in Australian English.

So, on driving up the village street to the house, I felt once more that my ageing heart, held together with Velcro and Band-aids, was about to start some serious bleeding through the worn seams.

When such melancholy descends the only thing to do is walk. And so I did, eventually fetching up near a chapel on a hill, for the village is ringed by chapels, six of them, in a kind of protective belt. Outside the one I found on Good Friday a gum tree and a Judas tree stand side by side. I sat and contemplated these for quite some time: my life, or my two lives in a neat symbol. Such was my thought.

And then I took in the scene around me. I had viewed it many times before, of course, but when your life forms a pattern of departure and return the familiar is constantly made new. The glories of autumnal Melbourne were gone, but here were the beauties of the Greek spring. Here again were the reminders of life's pattern of loss and gain, another nudge, if you like, to an understanding of the way in which life is so much more and so much less than we expect.

This little settlement, marked by roads snaking up and away into more remote villages, is backed by the irregular pleats and folds of the last of the Taygetus mountain range. Now those pleats and folds are tufted with bushy yellow gorse. Wisteria, blooming purple for Lent, droops in splendour over stone walls, and there is matching purple in the aubretia at ankle-height. White irises grow wild here, and march in rows along the terraces of olives.

The groves will soon be carpeted in yellow, white and mauve, but in the middle of all this colour, churches and chapels always drape their interiors in deep purple and black. Two days had to elapse before the shedding of these signs of ritual mourning.

The most striking landscape colour of all is the red provided by the poppies that I once believed grew only in Flanders Fields. But Greece has 11 species of these flowers, more correctly called anemones. And red is the colour the Czar of all the Russias used to wear on Easter Day: demon-defying red.

It was all so beautiful. I reminded myself then of the wisdom of living in the moment, or at least trying to do so. And at that particular moment I was very alive, I did appreciate every little thing that I could see. And hear: the birds were bursting with song. And smell: the scents of spring and new-cut hay were all around me.

And my divided heart, my nomadic life? What was and is there to say? Perhaps just this: migration is a kind of death, for the old self has to die. But there is a life, at its best a rich one, after such a death.

Perhaps my Holy Week focus was not so misdirected, after all.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 29 years. She has had eight books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. 

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Melbourne, Greece, Judas tree, gum tree, migration, Taygetus mountain range



submit a comment

Existing comments

So heartening, Gillian. Thank you. And as sn Easter gesture in return, may I add something I read just before I saw your piece:

'When despair for the world grows in me ... I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- Wendell Berry, from his poem "The Peace of Wild Things"

Warmest regards to you in Greece

Morag Fraser | 15 April 2010

How is it you always manage to say the things I don't realise I am thinking or feeling until I read your beautiful prose?
Thank you dear friend
di | 16 April 2010

Beautifully written, thank you, but I would like to add, the old self refuses to die, the ties and connections,seem to re-visit me as i get older. I also enjoyed the comment..poem by M Fraser, nature is a great healer.
Thank you.
Elizabeth Kosanovic. de Vries. | 17 April 2010

Moving - your emotions are shared ...Easter or not ...
wilma allex | 22 April 2010


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up