If you’ve been to Athens, you probably know what I mean when I say that this incredible city is a collection of crooked and clutter, chaos and charm. Wandering the city streets reveals crumbling structures and oldness, stories held for centuries in buildings that continue to stand strong. It’s a busy place full of amazing history, and culture. And for reasons I can’t quite describe, Athens is also an awkward place. Or maybe quirky is a better word, but in any case, Athens is a uniquely beautiful city and during a recent visit I found myself mesmerized by the contradiction of it all.
Every morning, with an Americano in hand, I made my way out onto my tiny terrace to do my devotions and breathe in the goodness of this special place. Gazing around the courtyard of tattered white buildings, I notice an eclectic collection of balconies draped with tilted and torn awnings, colourful laundry, and drain spouts barely attached. Paint peeling on many, some even missing railings, while others are full of life and shine from the care that’s been taken with them. Below there’s a collection of random palm trees, forgotten herbs in clay pots, and in the distance, I hear a cat fight somewhere over the howl of the mopeds and horns. All of my senses are lit up, and I can smell citrus and garbage, and fresh bread all at once. I couldn’t stop looking at this incredibly remarkable picture in front of me. Even in its clutter and brokenness, I was captivated.
Staring solely at the brokenness and tattered parts, the scene was bleak, even ugly. But taking in the whole picture left me in awe of its complex beauty. The complete picture was magical.
And then it hit me…. This is exactly the nature of human-ness. This is me. And, if I can be so bold, this is probably you too.
We are a living collection of clutter and charm. Some areas full of life and love and shine, expressing health and happiness and times of celebration. While other areas are broken, even shattered, indicating that pain lives here too. It seems to be our human nature to focus on our losses and on our weaknesses. But what if we just decided to pull back a bit and see our lives as a beautiful collection of sharp edges and glorious things? What if we stopped focusing on our short comings, mistakes, pains, and losses, and instead decided that it’s these exact things that make us unique and beautiful?
For me, staring out over this particular ally in Athens I realized that is was the imperfection of this view that made it special. And that’s true for us too, isn’t it. So, maybe in the letting go of perfection and embracing the mess we can truly see the whole picture. I can’t say I have it totally figured out, or that I give myself the grace I could. But I do think this time in Athens was an important reminder for me that the whole picture, all the clutter and all the charm, are what makes each of us unique. And I’ll bet that it’s in the acceptance of these messy bits and the celebration of the shiny parts where we will likely find ourselves fully able to enjoy the view.