It’s not at all uncommon to see death notices posted on the side of buildings on the streets in Athens, Greece.
This is the remarkably economical and semi-efficient means by which a local neighborhood is notified of a death and the plan for memorial services at the nearby Greek Orthodox Church.
But the death declarations I noticed on this particular Friday morning caught my eye because they were posted on the front gate of Padion Nosokomio, the children’s hospital near my home.
As I stood and stared in front of the gates – waiting for a woman to return from her attempt to retrieve the medical records of her 5-year-old daughter – the cooler-than-normal April morning was filled with the busyness of an endless stream of parents and children going in and coming out of this overcrowded public hospital.
Against the rattle of diesel engines and the hawking of a sidewalk vendor, selling tasty koulouri (sesame seed pretzels) for 50 Euro cents, a little boy with glasses – whose round thickness resembled the bottoms of Coke bottles – walked alone, straining to read a map. A lost child among desperate, losing children.
A mother carried a small girl in her arms. A preteen boy struggled, with jerking motions, learning, apparently on the spot, between painful breaths, how to navigate a recently received pair of crutches. The aluminum sticks punched into his armpits and made loud, hollow noises as their ends, minus rubber tips, assaulted the pavement and attacked the boy’s fragile sacroiliac.
Two opportunistic entrepreneurs hawked twisted, colorful balloon animals hanging on an improvised plastic rope, strategically placed between the handlebars of their motor scooters. Every child said “Parakalo?” (Please?) and every parent said, “Ochi,” the ironic Greek word for “No.”
A weathered, life-size bronze statue of a woman cradling a suckling infant offered mute testimony to the compassionate, humanitarian motives and the awful angst that collide routinely beneath the daily ministrations of this children’s medical center.
The predictable, small Greek Orthodox chapel stood nearby, huddled beneath the shade of two large trees – its door open, waiting for the next anxious parent to light a candle for a very sick child.
As the kids and their deliberate, desperate parents hustled by me, I remembered the challenge presented to the famous storytelling author, Ernest Hemmingway.
“Bet you can’t write a short story in just six words,” someone said. Moments later, the wordsmith scribbled: “For sale: baby shoes; never used.”
Marveling at the economical Hemmingway and recalling the compassionate Jesus, who boldly said, “Bring the children to me,” I silently thanked God for those three beautiful Albanian babies, born safely into Christian homes in Athens within the past month.
Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. A version of this column first appeared in the June 2013 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly e-newsletter.