Luisa’s anticipation for Eleni’s arrival was mounting. It was Friday and her best friend would be visiting for the weekend with her husband and kids. The last time the two families had been together was when they spent last Christmas at Eleni’s house. The two women had been inseparable since studying in the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki more than a decade ago. Later, they met their future husbands and went on to settle permanently and start their families in adjacent towns in Greece. They navigated parenthood together, supporting each other in all career and life choices. It was evident that they had moved past friendship and they now considered one another as family. Not a single month had passed by without the two women arranging to meet up at least once.
That same Friday evening, after the large company had finished dinner and had made themselves comfortable in the living room, the kids fetched some photo albums from the bookshelf to go through. Looking at old photos and reliving memories, the first thing to jump to Luisa’s mind was a proverb in her native language: “Non tutto il male viene per nuocere”, she whispered to herself. Instinctively, Eleni could tell what her friend was saying, so she was quick to translate for everybody in the room to hear: “Ουδέν κακόν αμιγές καλού”. And she went on to explain: “It means that sometimes difficult situations pave the way for unexpected happiness in the end, therefore we must at all times remain optimistic. In fact, many languages resonate this sentiment, for example in English they say “Every cloud has a silver lining”. Her friend Luisa, who was nodding her head all along, reassuringly added: “Perhaps it is not so easy to discern right from the start, or you are too young to acknowledge the silver lining, but there must be one, there is always one in the end”.
This expression carried a special meaning for both women, but they weren’t sure if it was perfect timing to disclose the details of their personal circumstances at this family event, especially to the younger family members. One thing was for sure though; whatever they had been through in the past had planted the seeds of their closeness and had sealed their relationship forever.
They could both recall the exact day they had realized the profound impact of the expression on their lives. It was 12 years ago when Luisa had first been in Greece on an Erasmus exchange programme. One day, while waiting in the university cafeteria to have lunch with her new friend, Eleni, she noticed a poster pinned on the notice-board above her head. “You are not the only one, you are not alone” read the poster in Greek. Even though Luisa was still unfamiliar with the language, there was something disturbing in how the visuals and the text of the poster worked together to convey meaning, advocating against gender based violence mainly in bold strokes of red reminding her of blood. She could not exactly trace where the vague feeling of despair and senseless anxiety that had taken over her in just a few seconds was coming from. Even though she had plenty of time to catch up and have lunch with Eleni, and their afternoon class wouldn’t start for a while, she suddenly felt this was an endless and unbearable task which she could not endure any longer. The message on the poster had triggered so many elusive memories of a violent and abusive father, who would draw her and her mother near him time and again, drowning them in riches, and fake reassurances of regret, but not love, never love.
Eleni could also remember that day. Stepping off the bus, on her way to meet Luisa, she could not wait to embrace the simple joys of life such as a plain, warm meal and some moments of relaxed bonding with her friend, leaning into her carefree side, which she was no longer sure existed at all. As she was approaching the university cafeteria, one poster attached to the glass window caught her attention. It looked as if someone had poured an intense red colour on it that resembled blood. She stared at it from a distance for a while. “You are not the only one, you are not alone”. She understood. She understood even before reading the text on the poster. Maybe another girl would not have straight away, but she did. Even though she had managed to forget her past and her family back in the remote Greek village where she was born and raised, she still didn’t have the power to scatter away this persistent feeling of emptiness and solitude. The triumph she felt defying her strict parents’ orders to throw her into a stranger’s arms and into an undesired marriage at the age of 17 quickly evaporated when she thought of how much she missed her sisters and her friends.
Reminiscing the anguish she felt two years before, when she realized that she was running out of time and the marriage was all set up for her, was making her nauseous again. That is what her parents had done with her older sisters, driving them out of their home, away from their parents’ care and support, girls were considered a burden for a poor family like theirs. When she confronted her father, refusing to accept his plans for her, he took a punch at her that knocked her unconscious in a pool of blood. Extreme poverty, he said, you have no idea how hard it is, he said, I cannot manage to feed you all anymore, he said. But she was not listening. The exact minute she got her exam results, meaning she had made it into University, she knew she had to leave. At the beginning she had asked for help from an organisation that operated in the nearest town because she felt very powerless, almost shocked, that she had found the courage to walk away from her neglectful parents completely on her own. Later on, her sisters managed to save up some money from their family budget for her early expenses, now she was striving to make ends meet while studying, working as a waitress and taking up some babysitting jobs.
Eleni could still bring to mind her disillusionment upon seeing Luisa waiting for her in the school cafeteria that day. Luisa was a well bred, striking Italian beauty attending the same classes as her, away from home on an Erasmus programme. Eleni could tell that Luisa was almost certainly of rich origins. What if she told her everything? No, she was convinced that Luisa would never understand. A sympathetic ear was all she craved for at that point, but she couldn’t stop thinking: how can one explain to someone with such confidence, such a background of affluence and solid family values, who hadn’t lived anything close to neglect, poverty or cheap instincts?
But when Luisa saw her friend approaching the dining table, it hit her. She immediately realized that Eleni too was immersed in the message of the poster hanging above their heads. They exchanged a meaningful glance, the smiles of friends meeting again froze on their faces. Skipping the greetings, Luisa sat Eleni close to her, cleared her throat trying to conceal her being in an awkward position, and said: “I think it’s time I spoke to you about my family in Italy”. This was the signal for their intimate conversation to unleash and the girls to share their family secrets that day. Taking turns to reveal what they had been denying to come to terms with for so long, felt liberating, and threw them into fits of sobbing and laughter, to some more sobbing and laughter.
In this trip down memory lane, which lasted only a few fleeting seconds, they could still recall the palpable relief they felt that day and they could see their faces beaming when they fell into each other’s arms, as they were also beaming now, because from then on they knew that they were each other’s strongest ally.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”. It is weird how this expression can evoke so many memories on a regular Friday evening with their families. Luisa and Eleni were now certain that they had left their cloudy past behind, and that their solid friendship had blossomed not in spite of this, but rather because of this. The silver lining was their sisterhood and what the future had in store for them, their transformation into the loving wives and mothers and the independent women they were today.
Extra information on the topic:
The ancient Greek expression ουδέν κακόν αμιγές καλού is often attributed to the Stoics (c.300 BC), however it is more likely to have been established later. It speaks of optimism amid difficult situations, and is prevalent among all cultures.
In the English language, a similar meaning is conveyed through the expression every cloud has a silver lining. A silver lining is a metaphor for optimism, and it means that a negative occurrence may have a positive aspect to it. John Milton coined the phrase ‘silver lining’ in his poem Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634.The Italian saying non tutto il male viene per nuocere probably derives from the Latin proverb “nullum malum quod prorsus omni utilitate careat”.