We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have enough strength to stare it down. – Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Home Front in World War II
Moments of glory – then.
In August 2006, I was trapped on a ferry with 300 Greeks and a lone American. Rather, the lone American was trapped with us. It was the World Basketball Championships semi-final match and Greece had just stunned the USA with its victory: 101-95. It was one of those things that will likely only happen once in a country’s athletic history, like accidentally winning the Euro Cup of soccer in 2004 or having a Greek, white sprinter win the 200 m. dash race in the Olympics. The ancient Greeks used to tear down the walls of their cities to welcome victorious warriors returning home; their modern descendants pour themselves into the streets, sing and dance until the sun comes up, and declare the members of their victorious sports teams the heroes of the hour. That day, somewhere in the Aegean sea between Santorini and Athens, a ferry rocked from side to side with the enthusiasm of the sports fans-nationalists it carried.
Being the Lone American on it would have been significantly easier at this year’s World Championships. The USA refuse to win a match by anything less than a 30 point difference and Greece bid the competition farewell at the octo-final stage. “Disgrace!” and “Shame on you!” graced the front pages of newspapers. Some of the players were the very same ones who won the silver medal at the last championships, the ones whose talent made us all take to the streets and hug strangers. Greece forgets its heroes easily. She transforms them into villains, converting a source of pride to one of disappointment at the bounce of a ball.
Greece loves saviors and heroes. A new Prime Minister (new being used lightly, considering the same two political families have ruled Greece since the late 1970s) is welcomed like the Messiah – until he institutes an unpopular tax or mandates that students need to obtain more than 50% on their tests to graduate to the next year of university studies. A new coach is foreshadowed to bring (back) the days of glory until a devastating defeat, at which point he needs to hire private security to fend off the angry fans.
When I was little, I used to complain that I would rather stay home alone than visit all the aunts and uncles my mother deemed it our obligation to see every so often. “They only talk about cancer and unemployment and superstition and what they cooked for lunch that day and how fat presenters on TV have gotten,” was my grievance. I missed the sunniness. “Too bad. You do not get to choose your family,” was my mother’s retort. As I have grown past the age of being dragged to these soirees – moving across an ocean really helped with that – I have come to realize that one cannot jump off the ship of her nationality either, even when it is sinking.The ease with which leaders, sports teams or governments in this country are elevated to a pedestal of holiness only to be knocked down to the dirt on their first misstep frustrates me. Loyalty tugs at my heart.
As an ex-pat, I escape the daily frustrations of living in this country. I still, however, experience its baggage and celebrate its moments of pride with twice the ferocity. During these difficult times, I wish the collective, national(ist) ‘we’ would abandon heroes, fairies and Messianic promises, remember our own fallibility, look inward for accountability for our economic and otherwise woes, and continue to clap for those who seek to bring us joy, whether they succeed or fail.