In the heart of the Old City in Athens stands the Acropolis – an ancient temple that dates back to the 5th century BC. Situated on a flat topped rock, on a small mountain that overlooks the city, it is the beacon of Athens.
The Old City is made up of cobbled meandering pathways and bright pink flowers that grow through the cracks in the walls. Orange trees stand on the corners, ancient cathedrals and little cafes bursting with Greek hospitality colour the streets.
Standing under the Acropolis, the Old City thrives under the shadow of the ancient ruins – a reminder that whilst the world carries on, the ruins of the past stay with us.
In the presence of these ruins, I found myself wondering about how history is made in our own lives. What happens to all those things that we build that don’t stand the test of time? From relationships to friendships, where do all those moments and memories go? What do the ruins of a life lived look like?
The answers to these questions, I found in an Airbnb apartment in a sleepy little Greek fishing village called Agioi Theodoroi.
We had found our way to the coast for some time by the seaside. On our first evening there, we got to talk to our Airbnb hosts - Jacqui and Costas. What began as small talk quickly turned into an incredible story.
An unlikely couple, Jacqui with her northern accent and Costas with his thick Greek one, they had met in Santorini in 1981. Whilst on a girls holiday, Jacqui walked into a bar that Costas owned on her final night on the island. It was only one night, but sometimes one night is all it really takes.
For three years they did long distance – crossing borders and bridges from Manchester to Santorini to be with each other, writing letters and holding on to the moments they had together. Eventually, the strain of the distance was too much, so they let each other go.
For the next thirty years, they lived separate lives. Three decades of marriage, children and divorces. Three decades of lives lived, paths travelled, lessons learned - without each other.
In 2011, Jacqui is looking up old friends on Facebook before a school reunion, and Costas pops into her mind. She searches his name, “are you my Costas?” she messages.
He replies; with a photo of the two of them, sun kissed, in Santorini, in 1981.
That is how it starts again. Jacqui flies out to New York to see him. She tells me that she was incredibly nervous that they may no longer feel the way they used to - after all, so much time has passed.
Costas picks her up at the airport, bringing with him the stack of the letters she wrote to him – he’d carried them with him the whole time she tells me, breaking into a huge smile.
And so stood in airport arrivals at JFK, they picked up exactly where they left off. 30 years later, two lives lived entirely separately reunited by a memory and a message. The rest, as they say, is history. Jacqui and Costas fly back to Santorini and get married where they first met, 32 years later.
From there, they settle into life in this sleepy little Greek village and they tell us this story in their Airbnb apartment. They tell me of their first meeting as Costas pulls out the sofa-bed, of how they never forgot each other as Jacqui gets out the clean sheets, of their reunion in airport arrivals as the two of them throw cushions around.
A few days before I heard this story, I sat overlooking the Acropolis, and one of the myths that came to mind was that of soul mates. As the legend goes, Zeus created mankind to serve the Gods. The being he created had four arms, four legs and two heads. The Gods feared their power, these beings were so strong, what if they could defeat the Gods?
So Zeus casts a curse upon mankind – he split us apart and scattered us so that we would serve the Gods while searching for, and never finding our other half. This search for our other half is supposed to weaken us, to distract us and stop us from becoming too powerful.
I don’t personally believe in the idea of a soul mate or the other half. I do believe though that a relationship built on strong foundations has the power and the potential to bring out the best in you, to bring out your strength, your magic.
As I stand watching Jacqui and Costas finish up the sofa-bed, I think that the things that happen to us, the people we love, the memories we make – they never really go away. We carry them with us, across mountains and seas, across days and decades.
Sometimes, we make our way back to our past, to where we started from. Perhaps Jacqui and Costas are the rare ones who have managed to find their way back to each other.
Not all stories end with soulmates.
Whilst ruins are reminders of things that did not last, they become the foundation for new things to grow; like flowers in the cracks of ancient walls, Orange trees on cobbled corners, the thriving little Old City of Athens.