A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to explore Greece with a group from my college (Patrick Henry College). Half of the trip was spent traveling around areas of the Greek countryside, visiting towns such as Corinth, Delphi, Olympia, Marathon and Thermopylae. The other half was spent in Athens, visiting multiple museums, frequenting the shops and seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon.
Whenever I travel, I tend to become hyper-aware of the beauty of the world around me. Every patch of wildflowers amongst the ruins of history; every orange and olive tree that filled the landscape; every dog and cat that roamed free; and every mountain that stretched into the sky, with snow topping a few of the highest peaks—all served to remind me over and over again of creation’s glory. My soul lifted with joy and filled with wonder every time I looked out from the top of a mountain and saw the vast, rolling Greek countryside or the glistening sea. I felt a calming peace—often characteristic of spending time in nature—when I ventured off on my own a little ways down a small deer path on the side of a mountain and found myself standing in the midst of a field of purple wildflowers.
Apart from enjoying the breathtaking nature of Greece, I also became particularly aware of the people around me. People are fascinating creatures, and people-watching is one of my favorite activities. Everyone—from friendly street vendors, random passengers on the metro and the people who work at restaurants—has their own stories, their own struggles and pains, their own joys and loves.
One of the most memorable experiences from my time in Greece took place in a town called Tolo (or Tolon), on the Peloponnese peninsula. A small number of our group took to the streets one evening in search of dinner. Few places were open, despite it being fairly early in the night, since we were visiting just before the start of tourist season. We eventually found a seafood restaurant that was open and went inside. The Bridge Taverna, a family-owned restaurant, greeted us with a flaming, wood-burning fireplace; a room all to ourselves as the only customers; and smiling hosts. After settling briefly into our seats, the owners ushered us up and led us into the kitchen, where they proudly showed us a freezer full of various fish. In broken English, they explained to us what each fish was and how it would best be cooked. Once we realized that our viewing of the fish was the only form of a menu we would receive, we placed our orders in the kitchen before returning to our seats. The meal ended up being one of the best that we had throughout the entire trip.
This family had cultivated such a welcoming atmosphere in their restaurant, and the food was delicious. Throughout that night, I found myself wondering what their background was. I still find myself wondering about them. That night, I was especially struck by the realization that each member of this family had their own stories and experiences.
Being away from home and out of my normal routine helped me to put my life into better perspective. Admittedly, I’ve been going through a difficult time lately, and this trip allowed me to view things in a clearer light. I was reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, the world is big and beautiful and my troubles are small in comparison. Nature’s beauty declares the glory of her creator and is a peaceful escape from the busy-ness of life. I re-learned a simple yet profound truth: every person possesses innate worth and has their own stories.
I’ll end with a definition of a word that I came across a few years ago (on a website called the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows), which has stuck with me ever since and perfectly captures a feeling that I often have, especially when traveling. Sonder: n. The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you(…)in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
Leah Greenwood is an Ozark resident and a senior at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia. She is completing an internship with the Christian County Headliner News.