Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Kosmas is getting older. His forgetfulness has increased in the last few weeks. Helen worries about him. She feels alone and frightened. They have been married for over 56 years. In this English speaking world which is far from the Greek village in which they grew up, Kosmas has always been the translator. Helen tells me, "I come here when I was 28 years old. I no learn English. Kosmas, he talk for me." I assure her that she is more fluent than she knows.
Kosmas and Helen are our neighbors, but more than that, they are our family. They have adopted us and claimed us as their own. They bless our children with traditional Greek ritual. They call themselves our Greek parents and grandparents. They keep us stocked in Greek pastry and Easter bread. They love us unconditionally. When Kosmas had a stroke several years ago, Helen called in the wee of the morning, speaking Greek frantically and R. was the one who called 911 for them. When R. and I were married, Helen called early in the morning saying, "R., today is your happy, happy. I bring you gifts." The gifts were the largest pan of baklava in the tri-state area for our wedding reception, and a crockpot to feed 20+.
Today I took Helen and Kosmas to the cardiologist where Kosmas was having an EKG done after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. In the car during the fifteen minute car ride he asked three our four times, "Where we going? What we doing?" And Helen patiently spoke to him in Greek, reminding him of his doctor appointment. Each time he thanked her for telling him and then asked me what I thought the weather would do tomorrow. I repeated to him the weather report and he thanked me. It was 90 degrees today, and Kosmas wore a sweater. He thinks it's winter, and worries that I'm taking the baby out in the cold. He was relieved today that the baby was staying home with R.
When the nurse called Kosmas to come into the examination room I asked Helen if she wanted me to go too. She said, "Oh yes, Christy [her name for me], you understand what they say, you explain it to me." I sat in the corner and watched as the electrodes were attached to a smiling Kosmas. He charmed the nurse. He was such a cooperative patient, willing to do whatever they asked of him. He thanked the nurse for her help. He thanked her "very much."
When the examination was finally over, Kosmas sat on the edge of the table, feet dangling. "You can get dressed now, Mr. K" the nurse said. Kosmas smiled obligingly at her, thanked her once again and then looked at Helen. She quietly picked up his undershirt and held the neck open for him as he slipped his head through, and then she draped his white dress shirt over his shoulders while he shrugged his arms into it, and starting from the bottom of the shirt, she tenderly buttoned each button until she got to the neck, when she gently patted his cheek. "Thank you, Helen" said Kosmas, his customary phrase.
I almost had to turn away when I saw the intimacy shared in this simple act. I felt as if I were privy to a private encounter. I was ushered into the holy communion of true love. My eyes filled with tears, which I quickly brushed away. We got in the car to go home and Helen said to me, "Christy, Kosmas, you know, Kosmas is my baby. You have your baby. I have my baby. He needs me."
Helen doesn't need to learn better English. She is fluent in the universal language of love. And this is more than enough. And it is an intimacy which I am only beginning to learn.