A couple of months ago, she came to “our” apartment - the one that she owns and we rent from her – to ensure that the old yucca plants on the veranda were removed safely. We all recognized that the leggy plants should be extracted from their fourth floor flower boxes. Having once provided cool shade and green beauty for the apartment’s residents, over time, they had grown up and out, tall and slender, with their pointed, long leaves now vanished from sight and reaching almost to the neighbor’s veranda on the floor above. While the plants themselves had grown leggy and skinny with age, their roots had become big and bound in their containers, threatening to burst open the concrete boxes. The combined weight of so many bottom-heavy, tall plants was now so great that we genuinely feared that, some day soon, they would threaten the structural integrity of the expansive patio, and break off from their exalted post on its edge.
So, Louiza came over to keep a close watch while the Albanian man carefully unearthed the aging plants. Because her son has a new home, she harbored a hope to recycle the old plants and move them to his new place. It was the last time on earth that we would see Louiza. We actually have seen her precious little in the nearly five years that we have rented the place from her. Through her English-speaking daughter, Maria, she was always responsive to our needs and willing to assist in any way when we called on her. But, the truth of the matter is that we have had very few problems with this great place to live while we are doing our work with Albanian immigrants in Athens. Increasingly, as we have gotten our Greek “legs” beneath us, we have taken care of the repairs that have occasionally been necessary. We usually just call Maria and Louiza, tell them the problem and our proposed solution. They generally agree and we have the work done and reduce our monthly rent check appropriately.
Just two weeks ago, both the refrigerator and the dishwater choose to go “out.” When it was evident that the appliances, purchased thirty years ago, needed to be replaced, Louiza went shopping for us and purchased new ones and arranged to have them delivered and installed – all on her own Euro nickel! In fact, on the very day of her unexpected stroke, Louiza was scheduled to come by the apartment to make certain that the installation was correct and that we were pleased with her new purchases. But, she didn’t come. Only later did we learn that she had suffered a massive stroke from which she would, sadly, never recover.
Last week, we attended the funeral services for this 61 year-old, strong and delightful, hospitable Greek friend. The intricate and somewhat mysterious protocol of Greek Orthodoxy, though strange and different to our American Protestant eyes and ears, could not disguise the genuine pain and powerful grief that generally gathers, like closet dust, around death in any culture. As “strangers” and “foreigners,” we are also fellow human beings and folks who have lost a friend. We grieve far more than the loss of a landlady. We have lost a kind and caring, competent and considerate companion on this journey through life.
Refrigerators and dishwashers and yucca plants eventually come to the end of their service. So, too, human beings, who were never intended to live forever on this planet. Our loss is great; the family’s loss is greater. But, together, we have powerful memories of days gone by. We have character-building relationships and soul-shaping influences that are more potent than life or death. And we also have hopes for eternity. Human beings, who place their trust in Jesus Christ, actually dare to believe that aging yucca plants, unbound from their earthly “boxes,” may prosper and thrive again. So be it with Louiza!