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  • Some say when you’re heartbroken, a change of scene is the antidote. You, with a different backdrop, are no longer the lover spurned, no longer defined by this vacancy, this absence so powerful it is its own presence.

    And so, several years ago, I found myself in Greece, heart worn smooth by the battering of the months a relationship took to end. I was given to sporadic fits of weeping, and to finding anything and everything profound. I was ready for foreign beauty to utterly displace my sense of myself.

    And on the island of Lesvos, it did.

    It was a Sunday morning, and, from the street, I heard a voice chanting. It was coming from a church with round domes on its left and right sides. I approached it, recorder on in my purse. Inside, the church was packed, everyone standing. The chanter’s voice soared above all of us, singing a line that would weave in and around the note I, with my western ears, expected it to reach. At a moment his singing became particularly dramatic, a procession of acolytes circled around the church carrying large metal crosses, the crowd parting for them. A priest followed behind them, holding the bible above his head. It didn’t matter that I didn’t consider myself Christian—I was moved.

    I found a man next to me who spoke English and told me that the chanting had begun at 6:30 a.m. It was now after 9 and, he said, winking at me, there was still an hour to go. The chant is Byzantine, he said; as far as he knows, it’s been sung this way each Sunday for centuries.

    I could see how such singing withstands the years. It must have been crafted, I thought, to cut into the human soul in a particular way, to mimic its yearning and retreat. At the age of this music, my young heart felt suddenly small, and part of such a spectrum of experience: that we will wail and praise. We will celebrate and despair. And it will happen again and again.
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