A RADICALIZED GREEK MOTHER’S APOLOGY TO HER KIDS
Dear Kyveli & Yiorgo (my kids),
I am so sorry.
I write to you from our beloved family home on Ikaria, in the village your grandparents were born in, the village that has known hardship and poverty, saw Occupation, but also is fortunate to have villagers whose isolation has taught them economy, endurance, solidarity with one another regardless of politics, the deep inner freedom that comes with self-reliance, and the peace that comes from not coveting more than one needs.
I am sorry that we forfeited these values for the trappings of material wealth and are now in danger of losing them forever, our birthright for a Mercedes, thanks to our own actions and those of our friends, to your grandparents’ actions, and, yes, even to yours, because of what we mistakenly taught you these last 20 years.
Your mother has become radicalized, something that bearing witness to great injustice can do, and what we’re living now is a great injustice, set in motion by human greed and transformed into depravity.
What do I mean, radicalized? Don’t worry, I am a pacifist. I simply want to tell you the naked truth as I see it. The truth is always radical. After that, I can only hope you will summon the courage to step over the smoldering garbage heap we’ve left for you to clean up, to forgive us, and to get on with the job.
I am writing to you to confess, to take responsibility, and to clear the slate. Your country is rotten to its core, bankrupt economically and morally, and your parents have had their role in helping it get to this point.
I am sorry for never telling you that I am a thief and have been for 20-odd years, as I turned a blind eye to the implications and agreed on more occasions than I can count or remember not to want a legal receipt from the shopkeepers, doctors, dentists, mechanics, etc., whose goods and services were – and continue to be — cheaper without one. I partook in a system that supported corruption and I, too, in my own small way, was corrupt. The state of Greece now, totally septic and broken, is the result.
I am sorry for all my friends, our age, mid-fifties, who are retired, legally but not morally, even if the law covers them, for you and your children will be paying for their lives in the years to come.
I am sorry I paid bribes to public service employees from whom all I wanted was for them to do their job, and sorry that I witnessed others taking bribes and kept quiet. When we moved her 23 years ago, your father and I paid our first bribe, at the Greek customs office in Piraeus. It was the “system,” and the only way we could retrieve our worldly possessions without being sent through the bureaucratic labyrinth for months. We capitulated and slipped money to half a dozen people who would get us through that labyrinth quickly. But I also work with people who demand bribes, and I am sorry I cannot bring myself to turn them in, most recently, a company who asked an American colleague to launder money by writing a receipt larger than what his real payment would be. That’s one way the black market works, dear children. Stay clear of it, for partaking is soul cancer.
I am so sorry that I spoiled you, every time I did the Greek-mother thing, indulging you a bit too much and perhaps failing to give you a sense of responsibility, to teach you that actions foster reactions. You will no doubt learn this lesson now, the hard way as they say.
So here I am, witness to history and to my own minute role in it as Greece faces a day of reckoning that is not only economic but deeply moral. As a parent and guardian of the legacy you will inherit, I must ask myself what is right, what are the deeper values I want to teach you, even at this 11th hour, the ones that will ensure your future here in Greece, but more importantly within your own selves.
What kind of country do I hope you, my children, can still inherit and what are the moral foundations upon which it will stand, for the shattered bricks are in your hands now, and, to make matters even worse, the Barbarians are stoning you with the shards?
What you have inherited was built on lies. Only a reboot can save it and only your generation can demand that, for ours has spent its moral currency. Nonetheless, we’re older and perhaps wiser and do have some perspective, so here’s my Greek mother’s radical advice for righting the wrongs.
- Revisit the lie upon which Greece’s entry into the EU was built and exact fair punishment from its perpetrators, starting with former PM Simitis, all the major players in PASOK and ND, and, last but certainly not least, those tight-shoed folks at Goldman Sacks who helped us oily Greeks glide through the paperwork.
- Create a kind of moral dropbox of grand proportions for every Greek citizen to deposit his or her own litany of personal wrongdoings. Set a limit for the severity of the crime and let the small ones go, perhaps demanding of each and every Greek citizen some of their time put to use for social good. It will help reweave the fabric of national solidarity.
- Seek catharsis and get the big wrongdoers to pay, both by returning what they stole, but more importantly by making them do some kind of humbling community service, too, the length of which would be tied to the size of their sins. Out us all, in other words, but give us the opportunity to reform.
- Accept the inevitable: Greece is part of Europe, mana to the ideals upon which Europe should stand, but it isn’t suited for the Euro as hard currency. Let’s get out. Grexit is not the end of the world but the beginning of it, so long as the country clears the ground, comes together, and reboots from the bottom up.
- Understand the rebuilding tools you’ve got to work with, if not immediately, then in the not-too-distant-future, close enough to ensure that you might enjoy the trappings of wealth again, too (maybe enough to even lend a future hand to aging radicalized Greek parents): Your country has unsurpassed natural beauty, gold, huge deposits of nickel and aluminum, magnesite, marble, olive trees, goats’ milk production second only to France, citrus fruits, and, oh, yeah, natural gas and the world’s healthiest and most delicious diet, not all in that order. These are the resources upon which newfound prosperity could be born.
- To make these work for you, you’ll have to take control and responsibility of yourselves and your country and resuscitate a national currency that survived through most of human history. The Euro is a blip. That we need a leader who can envision this and unite people morally is a given.
- Rediscover and embrace those basic values our leather-skinned fellow villagers on Ikaria know are the road map to inner freedom: forgive, show flexibility and acceptance, work hard, covet little, and help your fellow man regardless.
- Last but not least…please forgive your mother.