Sunday, November 15, 2009

Encounters/The Women of the Philoptochos Society

“Love is the doorway through which the human soul passes from selfishness to service and from solitude to kinship with all mankind.”

Georgia Skeadas (President, National Philoptochos Society)

In the last two weeks I was honored to be the guest speaker at separate events hosted by the Philoptochos Society, the women’s groups of Greek Orthodox churches in Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts.

I discovered in high school that if you put me in front of a group and hand me a microphone, I will find something to say and actually enjoy it. This was a great surprise to me at the age of sixteen, when I was more apt to shrink into a corner and try to disappear if I had to have a conversation with a boy my own age. But a roomful of people? I had no fear. I emceed my school’s hootenanny two years in a row (I know, I’m dating myself)—welcoming the crowd, introducing each singer with amusing anecdotes and finding myself reluctant to leave the stage and the connection I was making with the audience. I may have been compensating for my lack of a singing voice—everyone except me seemed to be in Glee Club or performing in local coffeehouses—but it was the one arena where I felt confident and free to be myself.

It was a serendipitous lesson to learn, and led me to embrace opportunities as a writer to speak to groups whenever I’m invited. I’ve had the good fortune to be welcomed time and again by an amazing community of Greek women in Springfield known as Philoptochos. They meet for fellowship and charitable works, which is how I came to know them. Every year they hold a fundraiser, and three years ago they asked me to speak when my first novel, DANCING ON SUNDAY AFTERNOONS, came out. The book’s focus on the immigrant journey, family and food resonated with women who looked, sounded and acted a lot like my Italian extended family. Since then I’ve been back as each new book came out, and this year, added a visit with the Philoptochos Society in Worcester.

At both events recently, I looked around the room. Every table was filled with beautiful, vibrant and caring women, ranging in age from elegantly coifed matriarchs to busy young mothers. The food and wine were abundant; the conversations touched on celebrations and concerns; the occasions were an opportunity to share both joy and wisdom. I felt as if I were home.

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