The last few months have been full. Full of fun travels, visits from friends and family, cold, snow, sunshine, work, and rest. Sadly, they’ve not been terribly full of updating this blog. When I’ve been writing, I’ve been putting my time into sending works off for Stripes Europe, Humane Pursuits, and an interview for Ivy&Branch.
But now I am putting fingers to keys to write about our wonderful trip to Athens, the race we ran, and the incredible friends we spent time with.
It was my birthday in November when we left for a weekend in Athens. It was the first of my birthdays that Aaron and I’d spent together in many years, and boy did we make up for lost time! Our ostensible reason for traveling to Athens was the Marathon that Aaron was going to run, and the 10k I was training for. However, I was just excited about an excuse to see the historical city with my own eyes.
We met up with so many good friends in the airport – some pushing strollers, others already wearing their racing shoes, all with nervous and excited smiles. We all piled aboard the plane and lifted off, leaving Northern Europe and headed south to a warmer clime.
We arrived after nightfall, so Athens was just a bunch of soft lights as we taxied from the airport into the city. Aaron and I were sharing an AirBnB with Mel (a friend we’d bonded with over a shared love of South Carolina and strange Russian films) and the McNaughtons – a family of four who had been some of the first to welcome us here, and involve us in their faith community.
The McNaughtons stayed home that first night – their one and three-year-old littles ready for bed after their travels. Mel, Aaron and I headed out into the dusk to meet up with some friends at a small restaurant near the acropolis. The mass of ruins gleamed with light on the hilltop, and lit our way with a mystic glow as we threaded our way through the graffiti-laden ruins of Byzantine churches, statuary, and old stone houses.
That was a magical meal – eating souvlaki and olives, drinking sangria while small cats zipped beneath the table looking for scraps, friends laughing beneath the stars, and the whole dinner backlit by the gleaming acropolis.
The next day the McNaughtons joined the three of us for an expedition to the acropolis and Mars Hill. Aaron was our guide and historian, and explained many of the marvels hidden in the seemingly mundane pieces of statuary that littered the olive-shadowed field below the temple of Hephaestus. As he pointed out the area where Paul had preached to the Athenians in Acts, MJ McNaughton and I exchanged a quick look of giddy exultation: how incredible was it to be standing on the same dusty patch of ground that once held up the sandled feet of the Apostle Paul?
Climbing the hill of the acropolis was a near-mythic experience for me. Ever since I had picked up D’aulaires Book of Greek Myths at age 7, I had dreamed of walking through the colonnades of the Temple of Athena, and now I was doing it.
The rest of that day was spent walking around Athens before we headed down to the port to sign in to the race to get our t-shirts and race numbers. I was already getting nervous and excited about the race on the following day. I had only run the 6.2 miles all the way through once, and that had been some months before. However, I was fairly certain that I had trained enough to at least give a good account of myself on the morrow.
The marathoners were more nervous – and for good reason! I could not imagine running the equivalent of my own race, and then going for 20 more miles!
We woke early on the following day, and the marathoners left for the buses that would take them to the outskirts of the city. I joined two of the other gals running the 10k, and we lined up for the start. I’d been warned not to let the excitement of the race force me into running too fast too soon, but it was more difficult than I had imagined to pace myself as the gun went off and hundreds of runners around me began to pick up speed!
The race was long (and somewhat painful), but extremely rewarding. After six miles, my feet pounding against the hard tarmac and my breath coming in gasps, I saw the gleaming marble Panathenaic stadium ahead of me, and my eyes filled with unexpected tears. I had signed up for the race back in the spring when living abroad had been such a hard and frightening trial, and every day was filled with anxiety. I was finishing it now, surrounded by friends, comfortable with myself, and resting in my Faith. As the marble arch soared above me and the finish line loomed ahead, I knew I was finishing an emotional, as well as a physical race.
We who had run the 10k joined the families of those in the marathon as we waited for the rest of our party to finish. It was several more hours before the marathoners loped tiredly into the stadium, faces exhausted but triumphant. We embraced them, made sure they drank their orange juice and ate their bananas, then took taxis back to our rooms for a wash and a rest before dinner.
That was another magical evening. We were more tired than we had been the first night, but it was the exhaustion of triumph, and the relaxation of success. Our restaurant had a glass wall facing the acropolis, and the warm glow of the soft stone seemed to smile down at us as we clinked glasses and toasted each other.
We parted ways that night to meet back up in the cold snows of Germany, but the trip will remain as clear in my memory as it was on that soft night in Athens.