On the sidewalks and paths of Athens, salespeople set up shop. Many sell jewelry, some art, others sell antiques, trinkets, or bags of all varieties. Each day we passed many...even hundreds...and always I walked away wondering how often they made a sale. If everyone is selling jewelry on the sidewalk, no one is selling jewelry on the sidewalk. It's overwhelming.
On our next to last day in Athens, we passed an old woman sitting in a folding chair in front of her wares: knitted booties, socks, and mittens made from scratchy looking, heavy wool, displayed on a rug in between tables of flashy jewels and art. That evening as we headed back to our apartment, she was still sitting, but this time she was knitting. My mental tally of her meager goods looked the same.
I thought about the lady the whole night and into the next day. By evening, I still hadn't forgot her and knew we needed to pay her store a visit. I had five euro in my pocket and figured I could buy something. As we approached her store, she was sitting on the fence behind eating a sandwich. She was surprised to see us. She walked over to the cloth with a gruff face. I carefully examined her work and told her several things were beautiful. Not a knitter, I could still see her workmanship was good.
I picked up a pair of blue socks and asked, "How much?"
I pulled out a five euro, and she smiled. As she counted back the change, she came to life. She seemed to be the happiest knitter in Greece.
As we walked away, we both felt something unique about the encounter--perhaps it was that she really appreciated the business.
Tony was so moved by her happiness that he said, "I wanted to give her the whole five euro."
For a split second, I thought we should have bought more.
But no, it was about her dignity. She sold her work; I'd picked out the blue socks because they were beautiful and finely crafted. She knew I valued her work, and that was more important than charity.
But more than valuing her work, I valued her perseverance, her willingness to sit on the Plaka, all day long and into the night.
The funny thing was--she had no idea she'd been on my mind for a whole day, and that we had gone out of our way to patronize her, to validate her work by making a purchase.
It mattered-- more to us than the little Greek knitting woman.