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Eternal Moment

Posted January 21st, 2011 at 04:58 AM by chas

“Did you hear that, boss? That old man said he lives every minute as if he will never die. I live as if I will die any minute!”
--Zorba the Greek

We took a local flight from Athens to Crete to spend a day on the island. For some things you spend a little extra. Or, as Gurdjieff would say, “go the whole hog and pay the postage.” Capital of the Minoan naval empire in ancient days, the islanders supplied the honey for Egyptian embalmers to prepare their mummies for burial. It is thought that religious ritual became theatre here at the ‘palace’ at Knossos. This ruin was probably not a palace at all, but a religious center. Two curved bull horns decorate everything, and mosaics portray bull dancers leaping over the horns. Here Theseus slew the Minotaur, in what may have been a spiritual rite rather than a heroic quest. After visiting both the palace and the local museum of ancient archaeology, we had done all we had set out to do, and there was time to wait to be taken back to the plane.

Here the father of Nikos Kazantzakis died fighting the Turks for independence. Here the German paratroopers came down in World War II like rain. Many were killed as they landed by Cretan farmers wielding pitchforks. They’d been organized to fight alongside the British troops by an eccentric English professor who had tramped the mountains, discovering ancient sites. You don’t mess with the Cretans. Kazantzakis is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read many of his works, including his autobiography. His best know books are Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptations of Christ. He was a follower of Henri Bergson, who believed in the Elan Vital, the Spirit of Life. Some called him The Last Pagan. Now Cousin Jim and I stood before his grave, and honored his memory.

The small crossroads near the museum was sunny; neither hot nor humid, but mild and dry. We had a few hours to spend before leaving. What would the great author have done? We sat down at a shaded outside table before a café, and ordered drinks. There was no sound at all from anywhere. A pretty girl walked by. We had no further touring task to accomplish, and being on vacation, no daily chores to worry about. Being free of care was an unusual state for me. Inside my head, I heard the theme song from the Zorba film, with Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates, playing mischievously. My mind and heart were completely at rest after a drink, and I ordered another.

A new sense of contentment spread inside me. It was a perfect moment, and, as neither of us disturbed it, it continued for a good two hours or so. I could sense eternity just behind me, out of the corner of my eye. Suddenly, nothing happened. A gentle breeze blew, and we felt connected to past heroic generations. Northern Europeans often look down on Southerners as lazy, but the tightly wound do not know this kind of Mediterranean peace. This moment would never leave me. I can feel it now. Happy to be only another feature of the landscape, totally unselfconscious. A part of Something Bigger.

On a warm evening outdoors on a rooftop restaurant in Athens, part way up the hill to the Parthenon, the musicians play joyously during your dinner, and expect you to listen, and sing along. They will be insulted if you ignore them. You don’t have to dance and smash the plates, although some do. But you are expected to listen. Can you hear them?

Is this how man once heard the ancient gods? At the Omphalos, the Navel of the World, on the hillside at Delphi, once a prophetess with a snake danced in a cave, and spoke of unworldly matters, during the ancient matriarchy. Then the Aryans swept down in their chariots to conquer, and a priest of Apollo foretold the future. The three female Fates--Past, Present, and Future--spun out the thread of your life. You were connected to them all. Are you still?

High on the island of Rhodes, a section of the narrow dirt road leads up to ruins you must visit. For a short span, it stretches out into the space between two hills. Forming this land bridge, it is open on either side to the cliffs below! There is no railing or warning posted; only a drop into space. As you ascend that section of it, a fat Greek peasant woman with a bit of a moustache is carrying a heavy bundle on her back, approaching you from above. It is clear that she cares nothing for you. There is barely room for her to get by if you both squeeze over, yet she ignores you and comes on in the middle of the road, unwilling to grant you the room to get by. If you are not careful, you will be pushed right over the edge as she passes. Are you going to let her get away with that?
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