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Greek-American Stories: A Giant among Us

Singer, songwriter, Woody Guthrie wrote and sang the song, This Land is Your L about inclusion and equality – the American ideal set into simple, eloquent language. Mikis Theodorakis wrote, among many musical wonders, a song with similar sentiment, with the lyrics ‘Auto to xoma eivai diko sou kai diko mas…’ He sang it with fervor and a dedication reflecting his inner soul. I can’t eulogize this giant of a man as he deserved, but, the whole world is doing it for me. Besides, there exists no phrase or words that would sufficiently describe the degree of his genius, his strength, his soul. Symphonies, ballets, film scores, stage music, marches poured from his pen and heart. Even enduring beatings of body and soul, he remained undefeated. His sufferings were great! Squalid prisons, concentration camps, exile, torture, broken bones, fevers, phony executions hoping he’d succumb  naturally, and much more from people not worth the breath they breathed; all this due to beliefs that were neither life threatening nor evil. Yet, nothing diminished his wondrous genius.

I recall being in a movie theater with my mother where Zorba, the Greek, was playing.  When the part came when Anthony Quinn and the friend prepared to dance, so, too, did two men in the audience. They were in different parts of the theater. Judging from their movements I doubt they were Greek. They were just moved and motivated by the passion and freedom the music and the momentum brought to them. I froze, wondering how those around us would react. I truly expected to hear shouts like, “sit down!” or watch the usher race down to flash  his flashlight  in their faces. My mom grasped my hand in anxiety.  But we were so surprised when those around us, actually, clapped, bringing a sense of relief and humor to the scene. But, it did more! I felt admiration for the moviegoers around us. I realized in that moment that Mikis Theodorakis, through his music, despite anger, frustration, and personal censorship, without bullets or ridicule or hatred, captured, momentarily, the minds of ordinary people, causing them to celebrate an inner freedom without rancor, without criticism or fear, and all for the price of a movie ticket. It showed me, a young girl, how an individual should approach life.

Who recalls the colonels, the generals, the political gangsters of the Greek junta with any degree of acceptance; whose sole mission was killing those having a political opinion unlike their own? I’ve never heard a good word said of them. Have you? They’d done nothing but earn our loathing. Inflicting dire pain on a man whose talent and very existence did nothing but beautify and improve the Earth was unforgivable. But, as history proves, they’ll always be with us, like those who took part in the infamous January 6th, September 11th, and December 7th attacks.  In the end, however, they‘ve thankfully failed to prevail.

Hopefully, they always will. As long as there exist citizens with a little knowledge of history, common sense, and the humor to help us endure, we will survive. All that is needed is forethought, research, and recognizing the hidden agendas behind the politician who seeks office. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an author writing under a man’s name  because women were not allowed to write a book in that era, paraphrased Voltaire’s words, who wrote in a book describing his belief in Free Speech and said, while I do not agree with what you say, sir, I will defend unto death, your right to say it!” Theodorakis would have approved.

Theodorakis’ life was dedicated to oppressed people and the plight of workers when he could have easily continued to create music, sit back and enjoy the applause, and watch the money flow in. He had homes in Paris, Athens, and Peloponnesos, yet he remained profoundly true to his beliefs no matter the cost. And, the costs were great! He wrote books on music, political affairs, and a five volume autobiography. His was a life well-lived and worth remembering, and in the same category as the saints and heroes we’ve known.

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