Versions of Ourselves

Pritpal S Tamber

September 16, 2018

Some reflections as I head back from an eight-day holiday on the Greek Island of Amorgos

I’m on a six-hour ferry from Amorgos to Piraeus. I’m sick of the crying kids and have found an empty space by a stair well. In front of me is the entrance to business class and I’m enjoying watching the economy class passengers steal in to walk about, observe, and get out before anyone notices. To be fair, there’s not much to see but I understand the temptation.

These six hours feel like the slow return of me to me. On Amorgos, a wonderful island made famous by the French film, The Big Blue, I quickly decompressed from London life to a version of me that didn’t need a watch, that decided about the day ahead during breakfast rather than the night before, and found it insufferable – if not impossible – to think about anything more complex than whether to get a bottle of water now or in the village from which the day’s trek would begin.

I’m not sure I like the version of me that’s returning. And I’m saying that while I can still see, hear and touch through the version of me that surfaced on Amorgos. He won’t be around for much longer. The hustle and bustle of Piraeus, the port just south of Athens, is likely to trample on his dying embers so it’s best that I reflect now before he’s gone.

This is not some post of self hatred. I may not like the returning me but I know the returning me may not have much time for the version of me that’s disappearing. This bi-directional distaste withstanding, what interests me is how I can be so different at different times.

Of course, there is a core that is me no matter what version I am. That doesn’t change. Whether I’m dashing between meetings in London or sipping a third coffee at an Amorgan breakfast table while thinking about thinking about the day ahead, I retain, for instance, my almost obsequiesce gratitude to anyone whose job it is to clean up behind me. That kind of behaviour comes from my core is but my outer shell is almost chameleon.

The interesting thing – at least to me – is how writing this post seems to be hastening the return of me. For the last eight (Amorgan) days, I honestly could not imagine structuring a coherent paragraph never mind a whole post. That version of me seemed incapable of form, perhaps because 2018 has been such a punishing year that to say I felt burnt out when I left London would have put it mildly.

The Amorgan version of me wants to stop writing and watch my final Greek sunset.

The returning version of me wants to keep writing, to capture this sense of transition, to see how concrete I can make it before it disappears into the ether, at least until my next Greek adventure.

It’s only Greece – specifically the Cyclades islands – that does this to me (for me?). There is something so humbling about the nature that I am left, well, humbled. As I said to a friend over text message last night, it’s not hard to see why ancient Greeks sought divine narratives to make sense of the world around them. Nothing earthly would have been enough. I doubt the same was true in Leicester, England, where I grew up. The Greeks had to find meaning through mythology. I suspect anything else would have been insufficient – and to not try would have been maddening.

Humbled, I’m left asking what life is about. The returning me is remembering the numerous fronts on which he’s fighting to change how health care works with communities. The Amorgan me (fast fading with this last sunset) wants to return to the island to sip a Greek coffee with an equally questioning traveller, one who understands the wrestle between the versions of who we are. Is there a third way, something that sits across the two? If there is, I haven’t found it yet.

Perhaps I haven’t been looking hard enough.

The sun turns red. The sea darkens. The economy class passengers have flooded business class to get a better view of the sunset. Perhaps it’s their final Greek one too. The window is too dirty for a photo. A ship silhouetted against the sun, murky through the window. Perhaps it’s another ferry taking some lucky people on the beginning of their Greek journey, the rapid emergence of their Cycladean selves surfacing as the ship passes us, is now behind us, has gone.

Interestingly – again, at least to me – the opposite has come true. Writing this post has preserved the Amorgan version of me. Perhaps it was the act of getting away from the crying kids in economy class. Perhaps I’ve momentarily created the bridge that I seek, the thing that’ll sit across the two versions of me. Whatever it is, I stop and watch the last of the red sun slip away behind some clouds. In five minutes, if we’re lucky, the sky will turn blood red from its current unbroken blue. We shall see. A different version of the same sky.

Piraeus awaits. My versions are at parity. We hurtle past a small boat with a sail.

The sky refuses to turn red. It goes deeper blue instead. The sea darkens further.

I have 203 emails to answer.

One of my final shots from Amorgos: a discarded boat against a blood red sky at Agios Pavlos

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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