There’s something about walking in the rain that’s always appealed to me. Luckily, Thessaloniki has been gracious enough to indulge me this week, with multiple rain showers so torrential they’re as deafening as they are drenching. And on each and every occasion, I’ve at the very least snuck outside to spend a little time letting water wash over my face and trickle through my hair.
Saturday was different. That morning, a day after an all-day writing marathon extravaganza/torturefest, I was struggling with a whole host of existential crises and ideological quandaries, personal and professional, and decided that I needed to hang back from the often intoxicating group dynamic of this trip in order to establish some breathing room for myself. It turned out to be a remarkably good decision. Heading out (sans raincoat, because I’m smart like that) into the downpour, I experienced the same flood of revelations one is sometimes deluged by under a showerhead.
Strolling slick streets, feeling the sodden chill of water splashing up around the sides of my shoes, letting my hair become slippery and soaked through in the downpour, I realized first of all that I am stupefyingly good at denying myself what I need.
Since arriving in Thessaloniki, I’ve been go-go-go in terms of basically everything – writing, critical thinking, conversations, outings, and all other assorted manner of social pastime – in my daily routine. As much as I’ve loved befriending so many of the exceptional journalists and wonderful people enrolled in this crazy trip as I am, I haven’t left much room for myself. Under those conditions, my brain acts essentially like it’s starved for oxygen, which might explain how a 2500-word story required a full 18 hours of undiverted squatting in the common room, with a priority on occupying the space when no one else would be around. It also explains why, amid all the excitement and intrigue of being abroad, I’ve been fighting depressive feelings and fatigue much harder than I had at home in the weeks preceding takeoff.
Looking up to take in the heaving architecture of parking structures and office blocks, I for the first time on this trip began devising a plan to allot more time for myself – to read a book (“For Whom the Bell Tolls” is sitting on my nightstand), watch a movie (“Alien: Covenant” will be seen, I swear), to call those people back home (you know who you are), and most importantly to sit and be alone with my thoughts. I find, when I do that, the complexity and importance of thoughts drifting through my head like barges in a seaport come as a pleasant surprise.
My stroll, even as the muggy humidity of the day began to cling to me more than I would have liked, also helped me open my eyes to the disparity on display in Thessaloniki. The main shopping areas boast Swatch and H&M boutiques; just a handful of blocks further lies what’s known as the red-light district (thankfully, my prior knowledge about the city’s geography helped me steer clear) and a series of dirt-cheap clothing emporiums with cleaner floors than merchandise. This makes Thessaloniki like any other big European city, you might say, and you wouldn’t be wrong exactly, but there’s a jarring dissonance to the block-by-block differences – and a flippant acceptance of those differences – I observed during my walk that feels oddly specific to Greece, a country splintered and stretched by the arduous realities of a debt crisis, political corruption, and brain-drain-induced social enervation.
I could go through all the more minute observations I made during my walk, but that feels unnecessary. What I need to say is this – if you are not making time for yourself, even on a trip as intensive as this, you’re doing yourself a disservice and putting on blinders through which you’ll experience a lesser version of just about everything happening to you. Take the time to think through everything you’re feeling. There’s no deadline, after all, for self-reflection.