Meet Petra. I found her in the old port of Chania in the island of Crete. She was selling sea sponges from a bunch of baskets lined up neatly in front of a tiny white boat which had seen quite a few summers. The sponges were all colors, shapes and sizes, the kind of "organic" that Whole Foods could only dream about. They came from the depth of the Cretan seas, personally fished out by her husband Georgi. Georgi had been pulling out sponges from the sea for 40 years, just about as many as the two of them had been married and lived on their boat. Talk about living in tight spaces and getting used to share. I don't think there would have been any space for marriage counseling to straighten things out when this boat rocked. Georgi, like a proper Cretan man, was very proud of his diving and as a proof had on exhibit a number of faded, some roughly laminated and with chipping corners, pictures of himself underwater, at various ages wearing the same goggles and holding various size freshly picked sponges. He didn't speak a word of English but as long as you looked at one of his photos, his sun-burned face with Greek-macho style reflection, was there telling you all about his skill. He loved to hear the "Wows" and I was sure mentally he was beating his chest with pride.
Petra didn't speak English either, and my Greek is less than minimal, yet we had a whole conversation about their 40 years on the boat, and their three children who were all educated and now lived in Athens. Noticing I was more thrilled speaking to his wife than listening to his diving stories, Georgi retrieved to his quarters on the boat which were no bigger than an interior of a Fiat 500. I kept buying sponges just to be able to absorb more of Petra's story, trying to digest not only living with another person on this boat, but bearing and raising three children. It all came to an end when suddenly, Georgi yelled from inside... guess he was ready for dinner. I almost got annoyed as to how quickly Petra jumped back on the boat, shifting her duties from a merchant to a chef for a man in love with his diving and buckets of sponges.
The next morning I walked by on purpose, hoping to catch another glance of the tiny boat and a love story of 40 years on it. Petra was there, under the umbrella, cleaning the fasuli (green beans) to make stew for lunch. Her face was calm and beautiful even after all those years. The morning sun reflected from the turquoise water onto her face in a million little sparkling dots. And then it hit me, she was not just serving dinner for her husband and selling the fruits of his diving. She was the anchor of that boat, the stable ground to which Georgi's temper could always come home to and find peace no matter how rough the waters of the sea or life were. It was the destiny she had embraced with love and gratitude, that brought purpose to her life, and which my little Miss "Living-in-NYC-working-for-my-independence-and-money" self understood and even secretly admired.