The Art of Kefi: Finding Joy and Enthusiasm in Greece's Magic

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The word "kefi" in Greek means the spirit of joy, passion, and enthusiasm. In Greece, kefi is a way of life. It is the art of staying passionate and enthusiastic no matter what is happening.

Someone who has lost their kefi has lost their zeal for life. Your kefi comes from an intrinsic hope that underlies everything. There is always something good to live for, and the best is yet to come.

My mom, Harriet, has always had a lot of kefi. Her nickname is "super trooper" because no matter what she goes through, she manages to get through it while maintaining her joy. Her favorite word is "go," and she loves to be included.

This is why it was easy to invite her to come to Greece with me this year for the Milan Art Retreats in Rhodes, Greece, which happens to be one of her favorite places on earth. Harriet will turn 78 in just a few days but can keep up with anyone. She packs two swimsuits, water shoes, and a noodle everywhere she goes, plus a mountain of Ziploc bags filled with protein bars, probiotics, 27 daily vitamins, and her coffee and sugar—and always her curling iron.

At the start of the trip, I noticed she was a little less lustrous, quieter, and had lost her kefi a bit. When she talked, she mostly talked about how she was worried about my dad's health, missing the plane, or going the wrong way. She seemed much older to me, not as sharp, and I could no longer call her "On Star."

I had a deep, dull sadness to see her slipping away as her age gripped her. I thought this might be the last time she sees Greece. It might be the last time she uses her noodle in the Aegean Sea or eats the fresh fish caught in it. This might be Harriet's last hurrah.

When I talked with her about the future and maybe moving to Florida, she became uneasy, nervous, and vague. It was clear she didn't want to talk about it. She avoided thinking about the future and just said, "We'll see what happens."

Emerging from the Shadows

Our first day in Greece was Magical Mystery Day. Harriet hates not knowing what's coming next; she likes control. One of our first stops was at Seven Springs, where we hiked to an old aqueduct, a tunnel that went underground for about half a mile. We all began walking through it in a line, and my mom got wedged between several retreaters, not knowing what she was getting into.

We walked in clean, clear, mid-calf-deep water into the tunnel until pure darkness surrounded us. As you walked, you couldn't tell if your eyes were open or shut. Our only orientation was to touch the walls of the small tunnel. The people over 5'8" had to duck as they walked through. Many of us were singing to bring comfort and song to the sound of streaming water.

After about 10 minutes, the light began to break through at the end of the tunnel, and we left the darkness and could see the beauty of the river on the other side. This little trek has proven to be a powerful and spiritual experience for many of the people we have brought here. People leave behind their fears, limiting beliefs, or anything holding them back. It offers an opportunity for change and transformation.

I waited for my mom to come out. She was behind a tall man who was on the retreat. She thanked him for singing and said it saved her life! I thought she was exaggerating a little bit. When I saw her, I asked, "What did you think of that?"

"I thought I was going to die. It was terrifying," she answered and kept walking.

I thought that was a bit of a dramatic answer for a super trooper, but I didn't press her and let her have her moment. She continued hiking and seemed to be enjoying herself, so I thought it wasn't too big of a deal.

Super Trooper Gets Her Groove Back

Harriet poses at a restaurant table with ladies from the retreat

Slowly, with each family-style meal with all 20 of us, every smile she received from her great grandson Zion, every kind word from the artists on the trip, I saw her life begin to return. She seemed to have woken up a bit, worry less, laugh a bit more, and connect with us.

She sat in the courtyard during an art class, where everyone was learning how to use cyanotype by picking flowers, leaves, and plants to use as stencils for underpainting. The sun develops the chemical, making a negative of the images placed on the paper. She watched others, intrigued and curious.

Brie, one of the instructors, noticed and invited her to join and give it a try. Harriet briefly protested but then started gathering flowers and leaves for her piece. She was very enthusiastic and intent on creating the best piece she could. She made little comments to herself about how exciting and fun this was. "I could put the leaf like this, or how bout that. Oh! I love this flower, and I'm going to add some lace. Oh! Yes, that's pretty". She was in her own little world, creating.

When she washed off the blue chemical and saw the magic of the negative appearing, she was fascinated. She held up her piece and showed anyone that was around her. I loved watching her get into it and feel proud of what she made.

Super Trooper began to spring to life and enjoy everything we were doing. She started going out on her own, walking through the shops, meeting people, and thinking about buying gifts and souvenirs. I saw her confidence returning as the weeks flew by.

Joy in Creation

Near the end of the trip, I suggested we buy white dresses for the next cyanotype class, and she could create her own art dress. She seemed a little worried about that, but we bought the dresses anyway. At the class, she was enthusiastically collecting material and anxious to get started. I told her to watch me first so I could be the guinea pig and make all the mistakes she could learn from. She impatiently watched me but was ready to get to work.

She laid out her dress and planned where she would put everything, then started brushing on the chemical. She was crouching, squatting, and moving all around her dress, throwing salt and adding leaves, fully enthralled. It was like she was a kid again, fascinated by the wonder of creation. As she spread the blue liquid all over her dress, I was convinced she had found the fountain of youth.

Her dress came out fantastic and was honestly much better than mine. All the artists commented on it and complimented her. She loved it. She went home, washed it thoroughly, and put it out to dry on the clothesline.

That night, we had dinner with everyone, and she decided to wear her dress. She looked really cool in it, and you could tell she felt amazing. When everyone saw her, they cheered and clapped and told her how great she looked. She was beaming and doing little dances for everyone as they complimented her. That night, after dinner, she danced on the dance floor with everyone in the new dress she made herself. Something changed. She got her kefi back. Life found her again.

Out of Darkness and Into the Light

At the airport, while we waited for our plane back home, I asked her what the highlights of the trip were. Without too much thought, she said, "Oh, for sure, it was the tunnel! I thought I was going to die. I was terrified, but then I heard that man singing, and I knew I would live. I hated every minute of it, but afterward, I felt so empowered, like I could do anything! It was an incredible feeling."

"Wow! That's cool, Mom. I didn't know it was so impactful for you. I thought you were mad at me for putting you through it." I felt relieved and impressed that she had had a shift and decided this was her highlight.

"The other highlight that stands out was the day I made my dress, and everyone said how cool I looked in it. It felt so good to make something and express myself."

We had a nine-hour flight home from London, and my mom and I literally talked for eight solid hours together. We didn't shut up once the whole trip. We talked about family, the past, and the future. We talked about our dreams and our hopes. We laughed, and we cried.

This is when I realized that her hope returned and brought her kefi with it. When she thought of the future, she still had dreams. Her heart still ached for her children to be happy and feel fulfilled. She had hopes for her grandchildren and their dreams.

From out of the darkness of the tunnel, she stepped into a new joy and enthusiasm for life. I could see that creating awakened her and brought her back to herself.

Share your story in the comments!


10 comments


  • Beata Kalo

    Wow! What an inspiring story.
    Creatiion combined with joy is key!
    Yesterday, I had a sudden realization. People who don’t create something and don’t connect with others in advanced age they feel empty and unhappy. In my opinion everybody should do the tunnel challenge to go through fear and anxiety. I’m happy Harriet has passed this “exam” of finding her Kefi again :-)
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Yes. It’s so true. We have so much wisdom to gain from relationships with the older population.


  • HEIKE KUMMER

    Hi Elli, what a beautiful story!
    How wonderful that you took your mom on this trip!
    When I was in my late 20s I was working as a jewellery maker in Hamburg. Originating from the south of Germany I had a difficult time adapting to the northern climate. One day in May when I was cycling to work through the rain still wearing gloves, I realized that something had to change. I had definitely lost my kefi!!!
    Following an advertisemet for a position as a goldsmith on Rhodes,Greece I got in October 1998 on an airplane heading south. I arrived in the evening, the main tourist season was over and I got a room in the old city of Rhodes with a wonderful view of the Mediterranean Sea and the Turkish coast. And…I got back my kefi! There must be something special about Rhodes!!

    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Yes!! That’s incredible! And you have been there ever since! Rhodes is such a special place! Like one big happy family.


  • Christine

    What a touching story Elli. You expressed this so beautifully. I might have had a tear in my eye. 🥰 So glad your mamma found her kefi again. ❤️❤️
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Thank you Christine. I’m so glad this touched you.


  • Claire Mcnamara

    This is truly a beautiful story of your mum finding her joy again. Thankyou so much for sharing. I loved reading this. It feels so open and full of hope.
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Wonderful. Thank you!


  • Sarinia

    I loved reading this. It brought tears to my eyes. It encapsulates that mother-daughter relationship in such a beautiful way and made me appreciate that childlike innocence beneath my own mothers fear.. Thank you for sharing Elli!
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Thank you. I’m so glad this piece moved you and made you think of the sweet relationship you have with your own mother.


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