An Epiphany That Changed My Life

 

I rang in 1967 in Ierapetra, a village that hugs the shore of the Mediterranean on the island of Crete. I had landed a job as an English teacher after earning a TOEFL certificate in London. My students had told me that although the New Year’s Eve festivities were exciting, the real action would happen on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany. In the Greek Orthodox religion, that day celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Magi. A procession led by the Bishop winds through the town and ends at the seashore for the Blessing of the Waters.

I followed along and watched as a priest tossed a cross into the choppy waves. The young men, bare-chested in spite of the chilly weather, jumped in and raced to retrieve the cross. Mihaili, one of my favorite pupils, was the winner. Everyone cheered because he would have good luck and good health for the whole year.

That’s when I had an epiphany of my own. The phrase “Happy Renewal Year” popped into my head. Until then, the New Year had always seemed like a time of contrition to me because of the emphasis on making resolutions in the wake of the overindulgence of the holiday season. But what if, instead of focusing on an attempt to reform, I focused instead on starting something brand new? What if I tried something that I had never done before rather than glumly listing what I needed to correct about my life thus far?

That idea stayed with me as I joined my students and neighbors for dinner at our favorite seaside gathering spot, Vasilis’ Taverna. As always, the brightly colored fishing boats arrived with nets full of red snappers. The ouzo and retsina flowed while Antonios, the blind bouzouki player, made music. After we ate, we all danced. It was a magical evening and when I got home, I knew what my brand new venture would be. I would make my long held dream of being a writer come true.

I started the next day scibbling in longhand in a little notebook called a “tetradion,” the kind that my youngest students used. I drafted a letter to the editor of Gourmet magazine asking if he would be interested in seeing an article about Vasilis’ Taverna. Then I borrowed a typewriter from some Americans who were in town for the winter and I sent my missive off at the end of the week. I still have that notebook, yellowed with time but legible. Inside the cover is the note “Query accepted on January 18th, 1967.”

I slaved over the article, mailed the finished piece in February, and waited. However, to my immense disappointment, week after week went by with no word from the magazine. Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that I had failed.

Then one bright April morning, I got the letter that changed my life. I have it framed and hanging over my desk to this day. It is addressed to me, Post Restante, Ierpetra, Crete, Greece and it is dated April 7th, 1967. It says: “I’m writing to tell you that we liked very much ‘Vasilis’ Taverna’ and are buying it for $300. I hope the check will reach you shortly. Cordially, Caroline Bates, Senior Editor.”

For a 20-something ex-pat on Crete in 1967, $300 was a King’s ransom. But the money was actually the least of it. My “Happy Renewal Year” had begun. I was going to be a published writer! And in fact I did go on to carve out a career as a journalist, editor, and author. But most important, I never forgot my personal epiphany. I’m a ThirdAger now, so I’ve had my share of life’s inevitable vicissitudes and I’m certainly no Pollyanna. But every January 6th, I remind myself once more that the New Year has the potential to be a Happy Renewal Year if I try to make that come to pass, even in a small way.

Hey, you never know.

 

Sondra Forsyth is a Senior Editor at ThirdAge.com.

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