I’m not a scientist or a doctor; I’m a storyteller. These two things, however, have converged for me this fall in a way that I’d previously never thought possible.
A little over a year ago, I completed and sold my first novel, and as it’s a story that follows the lives of three young characters in love as World War II breaks out in Greece, we set October 20, 2020, as the release date, in order to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the holiday of Oxi Day, which is also the day that the story begins; the other defining thing that’s happened in the last year, of course, has been the global-altering pandemic caused by the spread of Covid-19.
The virus has turned the whole world upside-down, and the publishing business is no exception, as foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores has been reduced to non-existent, in some places, and festivals, events, and many other normally-occurring things have been cancelled or postponed, which has brought about a unique set of challenges in launching a debut novel.
The other thing that Covid-19 has changed for me, though, on a more personal level, is a sacred and important promise that I made to myself, a very long time ago.
In many ways, the writing and publishing of this novel has been the culmination of my life’s work thus far, and the promise that I made was that once I’d reached that culmination, I’d book a one-way ticket to Greece, as a pilgrimage of sorts, to retrace the route and steps that Alexei, Philia, and Costa – the three main characters in the novel – take on their journey through a war-torn Greece in the fall of 1940 and spring of 1941.
How long would the journey take me? However long I wanted.
How many days would I stay in Greece? Until I woke up one morning and decided to book a ticket home.
There’s a passage early in the novel where the main character, Alexei, the son of a fisherman, is alone on his father’s boat after having just gone swimming in the Aegean, and he lays in the sun as it bakes the leftover salt onto his skin. He notes that being out alone on the sea and in his father’s boat feels like youth to him, and like innocence, though he also notes that at the time he didn’t realize how quickly those things can be taken from us.
When we’re young, we never do, right?
Perhaps when we’re older, we still don’t, either, because now these things have been taken from us – to varying and different degrees – and what we’ve been left with is trying to figure out what to do next, in a world that’s increasingly full of noise and confusion and disinformation.
Everyone has their opinion about what should happen now, in regards to Covid-19, and what we should do from here, in combatting the pandemic, and this is mine:
I’m not an epidemiologist, but I know how to listen to them. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a health-care worker – like so many of my friends are – but I know how to listen to them, too; and when they tell us that this pandemic is very real, and that they’re on the verge of being overwhelmed, and there are people dying every day that don’t need to die, and we can all play a part in stopping those deaths by wearing masks and maintaining our social distancing, for these last few and vitally important months, then I’m going to listen then, too.
I’m especially going to listen then.
We’ve all made great sacrifices, over the course of the last ten months, and we’ve all had innocence and youth taken from us, as well; not by World War II, like Alexei did, after the morning out and alone on his father’s boat, feeling the hot Greek sun bake the salt onto his skin, but by war of a different type. And while all wars are of course inherently different – especially one not waged against a physical enemy and soldiers marching to invade a homeland, but instead one that’s waged against something unseen and invisible – the most important thing that remains true across the entire spectrum of conflict, both then and now, is that our war, in whatever form it takes, must be against our enemy, and not against each other.
Because, soon, this will end, as wars do, and we’ll all have a choice to make; I, however, already know what my choice will be, because I’ve already made it.
My choice is hope and optimism.
My choice will be a renewed sense of future, purpose, and yes, freedom, too, knowing, like Alexei, how quickly these things can change and be challenged and taken.
I’ll still go to Greece, as I’d planned to do this summer, it’ll just be a year later. And when I finally do make it back, because of all that’s happened, I know that the blues will be just a little bit bluer than I remembered, the sun will be just a little bit brighter than it was before, the air will be just a little bit more fresh, the sea will be just a little bit more clear and refreshing and wine-dark, the mountains will be just a little bit taller and more rocky, and the salt that blows on the wind and catches on our lips will be even more healing, at a time when perhaps we’ll need healing most.
And thus I expect the trip that I make – the same one that the characters that I wrote about made, too, eighty years before me – to be more in every sense of the word, and to be a pilgrimage in an even greater and more true way than it would have been before. Because every step that I take on this future journey – every place that I visit, every soul that I meet, every smile that I smile and every bit of love that I know I’ll find and remember and feel and bring with me, wherever I go, for the rest of my life – it will all be an even greater reminder of what both they, before us, and we, who have descended from them, have fought for and must continue to fight for.
So let’s keep up the battle. Let’s keep going, as we’re in the final stretch, and hold the line, as we have been, until we truly reach the end of this, our war, and as for 2021…?
Wave when you see me in Greece.
About the Author
Christopher Cosmos is a Greek-American author and screenwriter whose debut novel, “Once We Were Here,” is an epic and multi-generational love story set in Greece during WWII, and which also makes a great and easy holiday gift that’s available to purchase via the Bookshop and Amazon links below.
Cosmos plans on retracing the paths of the characters in his novel in Greece during the summer of 2021, and he’d love to hear any local tips or places that he should stop or visit along the way. He can be reached via the contact section of his personal website, at www.christophercosmos.com, or on Twitter @XristosCosmos and Instagram @christophercosmos.
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