Walking With Dino: Part 3
At the end of the yoga class, Dino asks all the kids to meditate for two minutes and think of a place where they were happy and safe. They slowly settle into a large circle and then they hold each other hands and it’s quiet. I hear the fathers who are talking down on the lower deck by where the pool is covered in a blue tarp. One by one the children shut their eyes and concentrate. Two minutes go by and then three and then still gathered in their circle, they tell Leo in Arabic what they were thinking – the children here aren’t dreaming of fancy computers and iPhones or of the latest and hottest sneakers.
“I see my house,” the little girl says with Leo translating, “and there are trees and it is green.”
“Bravo.” Dino says.
“I see apple trees,” the little boy says, “I see apple trees.”
“I see a valley with trees and my family is there.”
A little boy asks Leo a question in Arabic, and Leo translates:
“Dino, they want to know what you think of?”
Dino laughs and shakes his head.
“I don’t think of anything – I just think about being here.”
The fact that they are both here sitting on the patio at the Silver Bay hotel on Lesvos on a beautiful Sunday evening is a miracle. It’s a miracle that a child of four or five years of age could walk from Syria to Turkey and then take a boat Greece and then it’s miracle their boat didn’t sink and then a miracle that it was their family a volunteer from Caritas grabbed and prevented them from being imprisoned in a place like Moria. They’ve won the lottery three times to get here and they know it – right down to the one little boy of seven or eight who tells Dino when he thinks of a safe happy place, he thinks of that hotel where he is right now.
Dino’s journey is just as unlikely. I first met him at the Birkam Yoga studio in Boston on Lincoln Street six or seven years ago. He was gregarious and friendly and he’d show up for the 5:30 class almost every night and pull off his tie as he walked in the door. His head was already shaved then – always has been – even when he played football which he played semi-pro long after his body told him it was time to stop. Constantine walked in and a group of us who were always there laid our mats down and practiced in the heat.
Like Constantine, but from a different sport, the heat helped old sports injuries and Constantine and I spent years in that room together. When he got a job bouncing down the street at a nightclub to make more money, keep busy, something to do, my kids and I would walk by and say hello to him on our way home after we had gone out to dinner. Constantine was working at State Street then – back in his native Massachusetts after more than a decade in New York on Wall Street.
I tell his friend Despina one day after yoga in Mytilini:
“Do you know he has another name we call him? Not Constantine?”
“No that is his nickname here. In the United States, at yoga I used to call him ‘Big Dog.”
Constantine smiles, “yeah man, that was my nickname and Gerald was the Black Swan, he came to visit me in Athens, he’s a good man.”
Constantine stirs his coffee. Big Dog lifted weights every day before he ever saw a yoga studio and not only was seventy pounds heavier but it was seventy pounds of softness so if our friends from the studio saw him now they would say he lost more. Big Dog had a girlfriend – but she broke his heart, left him, cheated on him, I can’t remember the details but I do remember it was something not so great.
Big Dog was the man who set up a guy’s group and invited the men from yoga – he invited me but I didn’t go. He wasn’t mad about that and he invited others. Big Dog was the one who when the offer came for the buyout from State Street – Big Dog took it and headed to Los Angeles for teacher training. He was so excited when he told me – there was one spot left when he called to ask if he could come and learn how to be a yoga teacher. He had already planned to go in six months or maybe a year, but then he got a buy out offer and it was like it was meant to be – he was sure of that, and he was gone. Friday he was in finance where he had worked his whole life – a week later on Monday morning when he would have been putting on a suit and white tie, he was in a room with hundreds of others learning how to become a yoga teacher.
When I used to call him “Big Dog” as I walked into studio and he was pulling his tie off after work getting ready to change, he’d beam and smile.
“Big dogs hunt.”
Everyone loved him at the studio. He was always in a good mood. Always trying, always happy to see you, but thinking about it now, maybe that was when he had started hunting. Hunting for something that took him to Los Angeles, then to Greece, and then to here. Hunting for what exactly? Only he knows and even then, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he just knew he needed to leave finance, Boston, all of us, and go. Lots of people put stuff like that on Facebook, or repeat it to friends over coffee, but few do it.
That’s why I came to see him. I just wanted to tell the Big Dog how proud I was of him. I was a little worried about him too – he was a long way from home even though Greece is his maternal land. He had been through so much. In March, he was pictured in The New York Times in his wetsuit pulling refugees out of a boat in the dark. It was that same boat that he had had pulled the dead men out of.
But when he walked across the street to meet me in the Square when I arrived, I was going to yell “Big Dog” at him, but he looked different. And I didn’t yell out his old nickname. His head was still shaved bald but it was harder now, the softness gone. Where once there was a big beer belly, now there is nothing.
His face is chiseled even if hid constantly behind sunglasses. His arms don’t have the softness that he once did. His walk is stronger. He was still my friend when he strolled over to me and we hugged hello, but different. He held on tight.
“Big dog.” He says it softly and stirs his coffee and takes a long sip. Another street child walks up to our table and without comment Dino takes two more of the free biscuits and places them in the young girl’s hand. When he gives them money, Despina tells him that he should give them food and that he can’t give away all his money, or that the money may go to the parents to buy cigarettes, he doesn’t care, he tells her.
“I don’t give a fuck if they do that, they’re kids, I love them all. Gypsies, Syrians, refugee kids they’re kids man, I love them.”
Another child comes up and takes another euro from him. Another child comes up and Despina gets up to go buy her a sandwich and a lemonade. Another child takes the rest of our biscuits. They keep coming – Constantine keeps giving. Soon he doesn’t have any money left and our biscuits are gone and the free cherries that the waitress put on our table are also gone and then he just gives smiles and holds their hand.
Despina sits back down. Constantine repeats himself – not to us, but just to himself.
“Big dog. That was a long time ago.”
He’s not smiling anymore.
This story was written by James Cannon Boyce, who has contributed to Longevity before. Keep an eye out for part 4 in the “Walking with Dino” series.
This story was written by James Cannon Boyce, who has contributed to Longevity before. Keep an eye out for part 2 in the “Walking with Dino” series.