Last month I had the pleasure of seeing some old friends. It was a brief catch-up, as they were in Edinburgh for one day only, and it happened to be the day that my kid had five of her friends over for a party. I managed to carve out some time to pop into one of my favourite Edinburgh eateries- Taxidi– to say hello to my old friends: Zoi Ksanthopoulou and her son George. As a bonus, I also got to see George’s wife, kids, and sister and brother in law.
It was honestly so wonderful to see them. I think the last time I saw George would have been more than 15 years ago, and I caught up with Zoi about 5 years ago.
I got to know the Ksanthopoulos family at a key point in my life. It was 1998. I had just got back home to Athens from four years at university in St Andrews. My parents had recently been through a very messy breakup, I had my first graduate job, and I had just changed my religion. Safe to say there was a lot going on for me.
Zoi, her sons Elias and George, and Elias’ girlfriend to be, Tove (wife now) were some of my first new friends. They welcomed me into a world in which I was a newcomer (religion wise), showed me acceptance, kindness, love, companionship.
They were a half Greek family who grew up in Soviet Kazakhstan, and came ‘home’ to Greece in the 90s after the Soviet collapse. It’s an interesting experience to return to a place after being away for many years. You’re a foreigner in the place you just left. But you’re also a foreigner is the ‘home’ you’ve returned to.
Zoi shared her life and her wisdom with me with care and humility, and with a genuine heart. Her while family were great to hang out with, laugh and joke with, and learn with. Soon they became family to me.
And through the years, there have been key moments where their words of observation and advice have been like a breath of fresh air, or like a light turned on for me in my own life. I am really very fortunate, and indeed very grateful, to have people like these in my life.
I don’t see them that often any more. Our lives and homes are all spread out over England, Scotland, Sweden and Greece. But thirty minutes together every few years seems to be enough to pick up where we left off. And so much joy comes from it!