Thursday, November 22, 2007

Digging up the Dead and Defending a Doctoral Dissertaion

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Demetrios went off with Stelios early this morning to exhume the bones of Stelios’ aunt. That’s how it works in Greece. Cemetery space is limited, so your unembalmed body, in a wooden coffin, is buried for three years or so. Then the bones are dug up to make space for another body. The bones are cleaned and put in a box; the box is put in a special building made for the purpose, with the deceased’s name and usually a photograph on the outside. You can keep the bones buried longer if you choose, but it costs several times as much as simply storing the bones does.

In this case, the bones weren’t going to be kept. A priest came, Demetrios says, and they prayed the memorial service, and then the bones, put into a large pillowcase, were dropped down into a large, underground storage place.

Afterward, Demetrios and Stelios went to the deceased woman’s daughter’s house, where they were treated to a light meal.

I had other, better plans! Christopher Orr e-mailed me last night to let me know his friend Herman was going to defend his dissertation at the University this morning and the session was open to the public. Subject: C. S. Lewis and the Fathers. YES! Never mind I might not be able to understand much of the proceedings because they would be in Greek. Or I might, since my theological vocabulary is better than my general. In any case, I would get to meet someone who was (a) Christopher’s friend, (b) an American, and (c) a theology student besides. And of course going to the Theologiki Scholi made this wannabe feel like Bre’r Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch. (Yes, I know, that’s pathetic. I’m a shop rat!)

Although the time and place had apparently been changed several times, Herman wrote that it looked like the session would take place at 11:30 sharp. I hopped on the bus at 10:45 for the fifteen-minute ride and arrived in plenty of time. You know, just in case Greek time might not apply to the University.

Wrong.

I met a very nice American man named John, a theology student, there to attend the same session, and we waited together a while, out in the corridor. Then we went downstairs to see if we could find any faculty. We found the entire faculty in a conference room and closed the door quickly.

“They’re still quarreling,” John said.

“Not quarreling,” said a Greek theology student, with a sparkle in his eye, “debating.” Okay, debating.

One time, the Greek man said, a friend of his was supposed to defend his dissertation at 10:00 and had to wait until 5:00.

It seems the faculty does not go by schedules (although schedules there are) but improvises, same as everyone else here. Ah, yes, now I realize, that’s what it is: Greeks believe in improvising their lives! That’s why Demetrios seldom knows what he is going to do until he does it. It takes a lot of getting used to for obsessive-compulsive types like me.

We went back upstairs. Christopher's friend Herman showed up and I got to meet him, too — thank you, Christopher! — and we waited another while. Then Herman decided to go do something else. (But what if the faculty should arrive to begin the session and you're not here? I wondered.That didn't seem to bother Herman. He must be more used to Greek ways than I am.)

John and I waited and passed the time in pleasant conversation. Then he said he might as well get a few errands run, so he left.

Demetrios and I both arrived home at about the same time (1:30) to compare notes on our morning’s adventures, and whether the defense of the dissertation has happened yet I don’t know! Because after what seemed another hour, I also left. There was no sign of Herman, or of John, or of any faculty member, and the door to the room was still locked.

Amazing.

Christopher, it was well worth it to meet these two people, to see the School of Theology from the inside, and even just to practice getting around this city all by myself. I had a ball!

2 comments:

DebD said...

Oh, that does sounds like a fun adventure.

orrologion said...

Well, I'm glad it didn't feel like a waste of time. Herman is a good guy. For the rest of you, he edited and translated a wonderful book called "Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit", which is the lives and sayings of a number of modern Greek Elders, e.g., Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Part of his dissertation was published in AGAIN Magazine here in the US last year when they were celebrating CS Lewis.

I'll let you know what I hear from him about the defense.

Greeks definitely do run on their own time; difficult for this Anglo-Saxon. I've been berating myself for regularly being 5-10 minutes late for scheduled calls at work.