A year later, this is a reflective piece of my time in Thasos comprised of what I wrote on the island in 2013 as well as how I feel a year later before heading back.
You tiptoe your way down a dirt path directly off the side of a highway. The soggy earth is slippery under your flat sandals and the only traction offered is from the burnt orange pine needles that have fallen from the overhanging trees. Ironically, your only means of support also prick your uncovered toes with every step. The only resource to keep you from falling to a guaranteed trip to intensive care down this seventy-degree path is a small pipe railing you could probably uproot with one abrupt, frightened tug.
By the third time you lose your footing and barely save yourself from summersaulting down, you begin to convince yourself that the only thing that could be at the bottom of this treacherous mudslide is hell and not the clear, refreshing water of the Aegean that you’ve been told awaits. You begin to convince yourself to go back. Return to the top, go back to your hotel room, and take a warm, relaxing nap.
But, you continue on. The long line of people ahead of you and the few other stragglers behind are the reasons you carry on. You remind yourself to take your time, clench your fists around the thin cool rail, and inch down. It gets more difficult to climb as the mud path transforms into stone boulders.
You maneuver over the rocks praying your shoes don’t break off and you maintain your balance for one final challenge. A sparkling grey and dark coral mass separates you from solid ground. You use your hands to crawl across and your feet meet the rough pebbles of a shore and you finally peel your eyes away from your feet—secure at last.
Finally, you see the reason you pushed on. Your eyes meet the clear blue water as the light waves reach out to you and then retreat back to the sea in a hypnotizing and coaxing rhythm. You can already smell the salt in the air and taste it on your dry lips as you smilingly allow yourself to be pulled toward the water.
You quicken your pace upon the small pebbles and rocks, your anticipation growing as you strip off clothes until all that’s left is a thin, bright swimsuit. Your toes hit the water first and you recoil as if bitten by a childhood dog. The water cold as recently defrosted ice sheets rather than the salty bath you expected. You inch your way in, pulled by the need to be immersed in the clear world before you, knowing the slower you move, the harder it becomes, yet you can’t bring yourself to take the necessary dive.
Instead, you distract yourself looking ahead at the endless blue, trying to decide where exactly the sea ends and the sky begins. You study it, beginning to see the clouds reflecting on the surface of the water and the shimmering pebbles of the sea floor glittering like stars in the bright blue sky.
You notice the few smaller islands protruding from the water like icebergs and you begin to swim toward one, now ready to embrace this icy creature. You never make it there. You’re too distracted by the solid wall of rock and pine trees surrounding the beach. You wonder where the roots of those trees were possibly able to find the soil needed for life among the stone.
You tread out toward the middle of this small gulf, your back to the open sea—completely imprisoned. You realize the sea crashes to this tiny space of land day after day, moment after moment, sensing the entrapment of the water. The rhythmic waves become prisoners banging on their bars in unison wanting nothing more than to return to form the depths of the ocean. You feel selfish keeping this view to yourself, keeping this water to yourself. As two seagulls chase each other around the high rocks and out of sight, you recognize, just as you will likely never see those two gulls again, you will never see this pulsating water exactly the same way again. As it is ever changing, it is ever watching and waiting for the world around it to evolve as it has been and will continue to do.
You have only been in its world for twenty years and won’t be around long enough to see the sort of changes it has experienced. Your selfish thoughts dissolve in the wake of this new insecurity. The Aegean doesn’t even know you’re here.
But the island takes what the island wants. This phrase is practically the mantra of our group. Every time someone gets hurt: the island takes what the island wants. The island wanted a lot from me.
This has been the best month of my life. I’ve felt confident and happy. I made amazingly deep friendships. Established mentorships with people I idolized. Ate and swam and cooked and napped and wrote.
Thasos is my paradise.
But it hasn’t been a perfect month. I have felt pain. Lost blood. Given tears. Reminded of times I could never get back and just wanted to forget.
The sun was straight above me as I sat feeling isolated in this beautiful bliss. I followed two rocks tumbling on the shore. There are thousands of other small stones among the shore, but the strongly obvious characters of these two stuck out. They are both red, passionate, heated, ill-tempered, and exactly the same. Yet, different. Where one rock is small and bright red, alive and glowing from within, the other rock is larger, misshapen, weathered from its years at sea, burned by life’s disappointments. With each wave that crashes on the beach, the little rock is pushed, tumbled, and pulled. The big rock keeps firm, stubborn, stuck in its ways, unwilling to help the little rock break free of the shore altogether. If it would just let go, they would both be free, pushed into the blue depths of the sea.
As the sun sets and the tide rises and strengthens, a quick burst of water and foam rushes the beach, dragging the tiny red rock with it. Dragging it free, dragging it on to the next adventure. Perhaps even drowning it, but the little rock is glad for the chance to escape. To adventure. The big rock remains stubborn, with every wave allowing more and more sand to collect on its back. Soon, it will be completely buried. No more fire, no more passion, no more love. It will fade. It will disappear—alone.
The little rock is alone too. Tumbling along the sea floor as the big rock remains cold and buried. Maybe now they will have the space that they need. Maybe now they will long to be back together tumbling on the shore.
I awake from my daydream, my thoughts of the shore and who the big rock was to me. How he tried to hold me back and push aside my dreams. It’s dark now. As I sit here on the patio, I swear someone is standing behind me. This island is so full of souls; I can feel them all the time. The souls seem to populate the beach the most. Souls and memories long forgotten. They take what they want. The island takes what the island wants.
While hiking on the peninsula beginning my last week here, I jump from rock to rock. My black pair of Toms shoes stiff on my feet as I make my way toward the end of the world. I fall. I catch a loose rock and I go down on my knee—hard. A harder feeling than I have ever felt before. Knee meets rock, rock wins. I pull my knee to my chest, too shocked to cry, too shocked to move. I can see bone. A friend runs for a first aid kit. I poor water from my bottle onto the knee to clean it. There’s nothing to clean, no blood, just bone.
My stubbornness kicks in and I need to walk. I’m not helpless. I won’t wait for help. I’ll go on my own. I walk back to the beach, peoples’ eyes bulge as I pass by and they see my leg, now red with the oozing blood escaping from the movement. I needed nine stitches that day. X-rays and physical therapy soon followed when I returned to the States. I will always be reminded of that day, of the island. It’s engraved on my knee, shining pink and angry.
The scar I will hold with me forever. I will also hold with me the memories of the month, of the island, of the trip. The island took what the island wanted from me and I was glad to give it. I took what I wanted from the island as well—a sense of clarity, of hope, of inspiration. This month I spent on the island, with some of the most amazing and creative and inspirational people I have ever met is one I will cherish forever. I was constantly learning, constantly absorbing, constantly realizing that I am in exactly the right place that I should be and am on the perfect path for me to continue to reach my dreams.
A bum knee is a fair trade for peace.