From the calm beach café, I decide with sudden and staggering conviction that I should walk into the dry hillsides along the ocean. I can see a path there, leading past smaller, steeper paths to Orthodox monasteries and around the natural bend of the island. It’s a hot, dry day and it’s 1pm; not exactly the idea time for a hike, but I need to get away.
I have realized that I have not been alone since I picked blueberries in the forest near the farm in Germany. Anonymous, yes. Surrounded by strangers with no one to talk to, certainly. But actually alone, in my own bedroom or settled somewhere without the chance or someone walking up to me; not at all.
So I wander off into the hills overlooking the bay where I was swimming, knowing what’s coming once I get away from everyone.
|The hills where I wandered.|
Kalymnos Island is arid in August, with very little vegetation beyond grey shrubs on dry, tan hills. The trail I walk along is rocky and steep, without much room for error before the drop-off towards the sea below. Everything that used to be a plant has shriveled and browned, as if slow-cooked here on the sunny hill. About a kilometer from where I began, the sounds of the beach disintegrate behind me. I round a curve in the hill and find before me exactly what I have been looking for: emptiness.
Beyond the place I’ve stopped, the trail continues, climbing and falling, twisting round the next few curves of the seashore midway up the same dry, dead hills. There are no other hikers, no churches, not even sail boats pass right now.
I drop my bag, kneel down and begin to cry with abandon.
I wouldn’t say that I am sad. Even that I’m feeling anything negative right now: I cry because I’m simply overwhelmed by not doing so in nearly a month.
I cry because this country is so beautiful, so spectacularly ancient and subtle and intricate and I am blessed to be here to see it. I cry because I’m here all alone, seeing one of the most amazing places in the world, and there is no one else to share these moments with me. I cry in gratitude for my solitude, and in a desire to shake it off. I cry because I am exhausted with traversing situations on my own again and again.
I cry thinking of my life, of all the things I know and things I cannot know which hang before me, waiting in the wings when I think about going home. All the things I want and don’t know if I will ever have. All the things I don’t yet know I want and need. All of the things I need to take care of once I get home: a job, an apartment, reinvigorating community, establishing my routines. I cry for all the time I have left on this trip – the multitude and lack of it. I cry for California, for my friends traveling and living and loving without me, slowly forgetting I’m even missing, just as everyone in Minneapolis continued to live once I left there.
I cry for a ghost that’s standing next to me: a letter I wrote on the hot Ash Wednesday this year, sitting outside of the Mass the school I worked for hosted. I was checking in stragglers to the service, writing between each attendee.
“What-cha doing?” my coworker asked, straightening the name tags before us.
“Writing a love letter.” I said, shyly, smiling secretively.
I remember writing the words that morning in February, “May we stand together and look over the shores of many more oceans.” Just as I had done with this man who I’d loved so suddenly and ferociously.
And here I am: in a place so similar to where that man and I held one another on the coast of California, looking west again, across more seemingly endless water.
It was determined by me and only me that I should come to be here alone today. All the things I wished for, wrote out earnestly in that letter, spoke about from the bottom of my heart never came to be. I took them for myself, in the end.
I apologize and cry for a ghost who stands next to me. It’s enough: the memory turns and walks away with my acknowledgement.
The tears stop, and I stand in the swollen, hollow space that descends after grand emotions. Grace sweeps in like wind fills vacancy. In the quiet, soft thereafter, something solidifies in my heart, aligns. It’s not an epiphany, it’s not a grand moment of realization. Just quiet and peace.
I breathe. Turn around and walk back to the beach. Find a little white Orthodox church along the way and light a candle. My ritual: little lights of my prayers for this trip burning in holy places grand and humble up and down the continent.