One of the predictable curiosities for expats living in Athens, Greece is the reality that almost everyone in this town takes a holiday in August. Sometimes, it’s the entire month; sometimes, it’s for two weeks; but, you can always count on very little getting done in August because nearly everyone who is normally here is somewhere else – on a sun-drenched island or a quaint village where great grandparents once lived and where the family still maintains a house!The already, painfully slow Greek bureaucracy moves even slower during August. Mom & Pop street-corner businesses close completely, their windows and doors locked and shuttered down; the entire family is away, with signs left on the door wishing potential customers “Kalo Kalokairi!” “Happy Summer!”
The ordinarily clogged, tiny streets are much easier to navigate. Locating a parking space on my street in Pagrati is actually possible in August!Among the “closed for holiday” businesses on my regular walking pathways, I have also noticed that the beggars are absent. The very-tanned young man with scraggly hair and dirty flip flops who ordinarily sits on a sheet of cardboard is nowhere to be found. The pre-teen Roma girl who holds a sign reading “Peinao” (“I hunger”) in one hand and, in the other, loosely cradles a crying, month-old infant with a dirty diaper is absent. Her treasured spot in the shade is vacant.
It caused me to ponder: Do beggars take a vacation? What do they do when not begging? Where do they go? Do they take their begging trade to a holiday spot? Are people on vacation more or less likely to give money to a panhandler?While I am still searching for answers to those questions, it occurs to me that all of us –including you and me - are actually beggars of a sort! None of us, in our own right, earns the right to take a breath or to have a thought. Every one of us stands before our daily existential moments with our hands out, asking – yea begging – for another opportunity to live, to think, to breathe, to give, to receive and to become. What one of us has, in our own power, an inexhaustible supply of minutes to live and a guaranteed lock on a fully developed potential? Why is it that most of our prayers are selfish petitions, exposing us as beggars, asking God for what we want?
We are all, I insist, like panhandlers in this perilous, penultimate paradise of a world. While signs in the London Underground Metro warn that “Busking is not allowed,” every person I know lives most of his/her life in desperate need – of friendship, meaning, fulfillment, worth, legitimate response and other essentials. Although it is rarely in the forefront of our minds, all of us are very needy and unable, in our own strength, to meet those essential needs. Like a person who uses credit cards to finance a holiday, we travel about in our lives without knowing the full cost of our own mortality and rarely stopping to give thanks to the “ground of our being” (Paul Tillich) who generously gives “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) to us beggars.“Hey, buddy! Can you spare me a dime?”