Last Saturday, being 15 August (Της Παναγίας), I performed what has become for many of us, a modern day ritual. I scrolled through by phone contacts and rang family and friends whose names are Peter, Maria etc to wish them ‘Hronia Polla’ (Happy Name Day).
It was also a more poignant day for Australian history. On the 15 August in 1945, Australia and the Allies celebrated VJ Day – victory over Japan. This marked the end of one of the bloodiest periods in human history – WWII.
The destruction brought about by WWII and the subsequent civil war in Greece resulted in the mass migration of Greeks to Australia, including that of my parents.
Regrettably, it is a little known fact that the 75th anniversary of VJ Day was commemorated at the Australian War Memorial last Saturday. In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister spoke to the three surviving WWII veterans who were present at the ceremony and he drew comparison between the global fight against tyranny of the time and the current global fight against COVID-19, and he said the following:
“All understood if tyranny was not confronted together, it would be confronted alone. It was true then, and it’s true today.
One million Australians wore our uniform and made the silent promise to give their lives for our country. They promised their tomorrows for our today.
You didn’t give it a second thought. You were boys who helped free the world and became great men,
You did all this with your nation behind you. In your sunset, we honour you, we honour your generation. In my mind, you are Australia’s greatest generation.
We thank you. You won a war, secured peace, and saved civilisation. Your deeds will never be forgotten.
We pledge to always be a good country. To always be as courageous as you.”
They were stirring words, inspiring – Obamaesque in fact – and a refreshing departure from the diet of day-to-day evasive dribble we are so often subjected to by our Federal and State politicians.
I stood at attention for The Last Post, a minutes silence and the National Anthem.
2020 has become a defining year that we will no doubt remember for many years hence. The world has been confronted with a calamity that has wrought waves of destruction to the health of citizens and economies around the world including our own, in Victoria.
For years, I had been privately hoping to be able to be in a position to visit Greece in 2021 during March and April. I harboured hopes to be in Greece to celebrate Easter, my Name Day but most significantly, the 200th anniversary of declaration of the Greek War of Independence.
Given this year’s tumultuous events, that little dream, now seems like a distant mirage.
When I last visited Greece with my family in 2013, we visited Theodore Kolokotroni’s ‘patriko’ in a little known village outside Tripoli called Limbovitsi.
Limbovitsi is at 1,200 metres altitude, in Arcadia’s mountainous wilderness. It is now abandoned but for the fact that the Fire Brigade use it as a lookout in summer for bushfires and for the benevolence of the Friends of Kolokotroni who have restored his modest home into a museum.
On the day, one of the firemen on duty (Kosta from the neighbouring village of Alonistaina) gave us a tour of the few remaining homes. As we approached that of Kolokotroni, there was a bust of the great man immediately outside the front door.
The emotion of the moment was electrifying. It was so overwhelming in fact that my wife’s knees buckled and she literally collapsed in tears. Kolokotroni is the man who we have grown up identifying as the epitome of self-sacrifice (he fought bravely, was imprisoned and lost his sons in war) and the pursuit of ideals in the face of incalculable odds.
The star of great (selfless) men and women of every generation shines in perpetuity.
Today, it is very easy for each of us to get overwhelmed by the significance of our daily lunch box. This is partly because we lack a point of reference.
We fail to take the time to understand – to really understand and appreciate – the difficulties and sacrifices made by those who came before, by those around us, including our own parents and on whose shoulders we stand, that gave of their lives in order that we can enjoy the comforts of… modern society.
The freedoms, bounty and leisure that define modern Australia are not a ‘challenge’ a ‘chore’ and far from purgatory that we often make out. They are in fact a distinct privilege.
As we live through the moment, we must be mindful of the generations of Australians that fought to create our great country and of the generation of elderly Greeks who fled post war Greece to come to Australia and work tirelessly to help create all of that, which we now enjoy.
It is bitter in the extreme to be a mere bystander as dozens of that generation are succumbing to their final battle, their battle against the virus.
And as the virus continues to play havoc in Victoria, particularly in suburbs that are poorer with the highest levels of casualised (and insecure) employment and throughout Melbourne’s nursing homes, we are learning that none are immune. The virus does not discriminate nor willingly retreat, as New Zealand is now witness.
It is incumbent on each of us to remember that we are in fact, in this together.
To point fingers at the bungling of hotel quarantine in Victoria (as I have) and adopt a cynical εμείς να είμαστε καλά και ας το κόσμο να καίγεται (I’m all right Jack, bugger you Charlie) approach which characterises so much of the witless vile shared via social media posts, is to dismiss the genuine effort being made by the vast majority of citizens including the thousands of health workers who are giving of themselves on the front line.
As difficult as it may be for those of us who have suffered, lost loved ones or seen businesses destroyed (as I have my own), we must each look within and call upon our better angels and continue to find strength, courage and dispense forgiveness.
Forgiveness after all, allows us to look forward towards a brighter future and emancipates us from a painful past. If not forgiveness, what is ‘tis Panagias’ all about?
As Martin Luther King once said “No one is free, until we are all free”.