The 26th of this month will mark the first anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Express Samina in Paros Harbour.
A Mass will be held at the Ekatontapiliani Church, followed by the unveiling of a memorial to the dead by the Mayor and a simple ceremony at the Town Hall to honour local fishermen.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, in the U.S. city of Seattle, two young women are planning a very special pilgrimage.
Artist Christine Shannon and her friend Heidi Hart are two of the survivors from the Express Samina. They, and others from countries around the world, have expressed the wish to return to Paros for the anniversary on the 26th. Our island has become for them not only the site of a terrifying experience, but also the place where they were rescued from that terror, the island to whose people they feel a profound sense of gratitude.
In Christine's own words: "I am only one of many survivors with a tale to tell, and I feel grateful to be able to tell you mine. There are so many things that I have wanted to say to the citizens of Paros. First, to say thank you, thank you for being so strong and heroic. Thank you for pulling me to safety. Thank you for taking me in and drying me off. Thank you for doing all that you did for a stranger in a strange land. I know I am not alone, I know that there are many people from many lands who would like to say thank you too. It is with this in mind that I had an idea, more like an epiphany, of a way that I could express my gratitude and the gratitude of so many others.
"It was in the very dark days of my healing process. I had been home in Seattle for about a month. I was in shock from what had happened on the Express Samina and I was in deep depression. I was like a zombie. Then one day, while washing the dishes, an idea came to me in a bright white light. I saw a statue erected on the dock where the lifeboat that I was on came to rest, overlooking the rocks. Solid and strong, an image of a looking glass came to me. A symbol to look through and remember what had just happened, and the sacrifice so many people made here. A representation that the eyes of the world were here, on those rocks, on that day. A reminder for people to look out and to look out for each other.
"More important to me though, was to see the human courage and kindness that took place in a small town on the island of Paros. That is the reason for the crystal that will be in the centre of the monument. When the sun sets it will shine through with prisms - rainbows for the people. And if by chance you see a reflection of the sun glinting off the glass while on a ferry, give thanks for the sunset you can see and the life you are living."
Christine's art has always been multi-faceted, she says - whether it is painting, sculpture or poetry. The motif of this statue encompasses both the idea of the looking-glass and a stylised shepherd's staff, representing the need for guidance and help through troubled waters, whether literally or symbolically through any difficult life event.
Christine and Heidi are commissioning a well-known Seattle sculptor, Peter Bevis, to cast the statue in bronze once they have raised enough money (they need a total of $15-20,000) to cover the cost. Peter is president of the Kalakala Restoration Society: the Kalakala is an art deco-style ferry built in the Depression era that is being restored and which is well known in Seattle. So far they have raised $1,500 through the "Samina Memorial Foundation" which they founded earlier this year.
Once Peter has the wooden model, which Christine and Heidi have almost completed, he will make a rubber mold of it, and then cast it in bronze. The whole procedure will take about six weeks. Because they still have to raise the necessary funds, they will not be trying to bring the statue this year. For now they will just concentrate on looking for a home for the monument and will be bringing lots of drawings and paintings for anyone who is interested to know more about it.
"I have always looked at this tragedy and wondered what was my part in it. Why was I there?", Christine says.
"I believe I can make this memorial, but I am humbled in the face of such tragedy. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to make a symbol of the tragic loss of lives. I am healing as best I can, and I feel much pain for all of the victims. I would not know how to give proper respect to those souls who were lost, nor to their loved ones. Although the very idea of this statue came out of mourning for the dead, this is an area I feel is better left to the people of Greece.
"I am returning to Athens on the 23rd of September. I haven't decided how I should get to Paros - I am a little scared of riding on a ferry. I will be coming to the island with Heidi, who was on the Express Samina with me. She is taking part in the creation of our looking-glass, and I know that her thoughts and prayers join mine in this letter to the people of Paros. We are travelling to Greece to join other survivors of the ill-fated Express Samina.
"We will be looking for a home for our memorial, so if there are any citizens or businesses who would like to help us find a place for it, preferably overlooking the rocks, we would love to meet with you upon our arrival. Heidi and I have found this to be an important part of our healing process. However long it takes, we'll get it done."
Contributions can be made to the Foundation at 2846 23rd Ave. W., Seattle, 98199 USA or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information. You can also contact Christine by email at email@example.com and Heidi at firstname.lastname@example.org.