Guards

When I pulled my backpack purse around to put my cell phone in it, I saw that the main zipper was open. For a flash I thought “how careless, I didn’t close it” but then I saw the shadowy gap where my wallet should be and wasn’t.

It was a really pretty wallet, camel skin that my husband brought me from Afghanistan.

All the running around, shouting, trying not to panic, trying not to let my distress kill the joy of the day for my kids – we were just outside the Acropolis in Athens, and in the moment that I had leaned back to take a photo of an old Orthodox church with the top of the Acropolis peering over the rock’s edge above it, I had been aware of people behind me but I was absorbed in the moment, framing the shot, soaking in the almost spiritual vibe of the place.

Long story short, I lost neither cell phone nor passport but I did lose my credit card, debit card, driver’s licence, a SIM card for my phone in the US, maybe a few other random items, and 100 Euros in cash. And my serenity. I’m still worried about identity theft, but I’ve already replaced the credit and debit cards. The money isn’t insignificant but it’s not that much either, in the grand scheme of things. It translates into books and yarn that I was planning to buy and won’t, now. At least not this year.

And I wasn’t alone: my husband still had all his cash and cards and could carry us through the rest of the trip.

It made me think, though, about how during the five years in Colombia, in a city where nearly everyone on our team had a wallet or phone stolen at least once, I never once had my pocket picked or home robbed. But I also never once let my guard down. And this affected – deeply – my experience of living in that city. It was a mutually reinforcing dynamic, the guardedness and my unhappiness there – if I had felt more connected, more welcomed, perhaps I would have been less guarded. If I had been less guarded, less defensive, perhaps I would have formed closer attachments to people and places in Colombia. But I did neither.

Sure, there are a few people I feel great affection for – the Colombian women on our team in particular – but that affection is still colored by the disaffection I feel towards the country as a whole. (And I still feel guilty, a sense of failure, for this.)

In Athens, my wallet was stolen. In an unguarded moment, someone took advantage of my happiness and trust and did me injury. And yet I still have that memory of seeing the Parthenon for the first time, tears surprising my eyes as the immense weight of history washed over me – the tangible reality of the white stones in front of me. All those years of poring over flat diagrams on a white page, and now the constructed thing made real, with all its attached significance. I let down my guard, and all this experience flooded in.

 

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