I’ve just returned home from Sifnos where the number of people I call friends has grown yet again. By a lot. It has become my habit to go there once every year for a month and I should be well used to this phenomenon by now. But the generosity of spirit I find among those who live on Sifnos astounds me still.
For interest sake, I attempted to keep track this time of all the gifts I received. There were cakes and cookies galore, some waiting for me already when I stepped off the ferry. Invitations into people’s homes for coffee and much more. Glasses of wine, ouzo and other liqueurs that, no matter how much I drank, never emptied. Sweet apricots from a neighbour’s tree. Pieces of Sifnian pottery to bring home. A pair of earrings made for me in a colour the maker guessed is my favourite one. She got it right. Most of these gifts came from people who not that long before were complete strangers to me. And I know that in receiving so many kindnesses, I’m far from alone. Of all the things I love about Sifnos, it’s the open-heartedness these gifts represent that means the most.
There’s a phrase in English I’ve heard often on this island, one that has always intrigued me. I like to drink coffee after a meal and, in more than one taverna I frequent and whose owners I’ve come to know, when it’s been time to settle the bill, rather than charge for the coffees, they’ve said, “The coffee is for me.”
Perhaps, I thought at first, the speaker had confused their prepositions, saying “for” where they should have said “from,” as in “The coffee is from me,” as a native English speaker would. But when over time I began to hear the same phrase from different people, I decided that this explanation didn’t work. Was it, I thought next, an instance where the structures of English and Greek don’t line up, the distinction between “for” and “from” one their own language doesn’t make so clearly? As over time I began to pick up bits and pieces of Greek – apó, the word for “from” among them and yía, the one that means “for” – this reasoning, too, fell apart.
Then it hit me. These speakers don’t have it wrong. They mean exactly what they’re saying. Yes, this coffee was meant as a gift to me, but they well know that they’ve benefitted from giving it too. There’s the warmth in their heart, the sweet knowledge that they’ve brought happiness to another, the way deeds like this feed one’s soul. One kind act brings two people joy, Sifnians well know. It’s a way of life they live every day. So entrenched is it in their culture that it’s simply who they are.
Is is any wonder I so love to be in their midst? Why I always return home determined to carry along with me this way of being?
Can you imagine if the rest of the world operated like that?