He cupped his hand under his chin to properly think when I looked toward the water. He was teaching me how to play chess, and I had thwarted his next move. Always having thought chess was a game for old men, I was surprised to have someone under 30 ask me to play. Onondaga Lake Park offered an ideal setting: picnic benches, kids laughing in the distance, old women power-walking in their thick shades. No one paid us any attention, allowing us to concentrate on each other and the game. I didn’t win that day, but I will soon.
I watched the waves, thinking back several days to the Greek Fest at Saint Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church that I attended with my mother. It was the first outdoor event I’ve been to in ages, and we went in the evening after I got done with work, so the lingering light made summer feel alive. Fireflies have come out to the fields around my house; I suddenly don’t mind the heat, find that I favor car windows down over air conditioning. My mother and I stayed warm into the night at the Greek Fest with roasted lamb and honey puffs in our bellies, arms around each other as we watched the professional dancers do high kicks. Despite having gone to the Greek Fest several times throughout my upbringing in Syracuse, this was the first year I got to see the dancers — I normally went straight inside to get my fill of baklava, ignorant of any entertainment.
The high level of organization at this year’s Greek Fest also impressed me, with one food line facing the dance floor hosted by volunteers ready to answer questions about the menu and circle your order. In our turn, we were presented the menus, didn’t have to shout over the Aegeans, and waited less than a minute for our food to be handed over. My mother and I easily found two open spots at a long table, and were smiled at by an older Greek woman sitting with her sons. We felt welcomed into their community; a little Greek baby even waved at us. I don’t remember ever feeling that warm at a college event.
Sitting in the park days after the Greek Fest reinforced the contended feeling I gained there. I looked around at the families enjoying themselves, couples staring lovingly at their phones and then each other, and thought about how it didn’t matter if I lost at chess. I had still made the effort to be outside, away from stressful work environments and the general hesitation of obligations. Strategically thinking of my next move in the game calmed my nerves, and after he won I didn’t think about what waited at work or how I could’ve played more efficiently. I thought about buying alphonso mangoes, how I want to eat them every day they are in season.
I’m learning to enjoy my time in Syracuse at a slower pace, not to rush straight for what I know to be good and to not be so critical. I look at the unfamiliar and feel ready to explore my options.