John Y. Brown, III: An American in Greece

God showing off this morning in Pireus, Greece.

What’s the point of being in Greece if you can’t come up with a little philosophy along the way?

Like eating in Italy; philosophizing in Greece is unavoidable. So here goes.

A cautionary tale:

Why is it the lessons we are taught in life—the bigger lessons; the morality tales, the ultimate life questions—are so difficult to master?

We are taught these simple lessons over and over and still over again throughout life.

First through school primers, then fairy tales, then film, music and art, then through literature, then philosophy, then theology ,and then through the life of those around us and near to us, and finally and most painfully, through our own lives.

And then the final stage of this educational process arrives and we become the teachers ourselves to those younger and less wise, when we die, having never learned these life lessons fully enough along the way.

We are born to learn and yet the less we learn the more we teach when we die.

A cautionary tale.


“Be not afraid of being a tourist: some are born tourists, some achieve tourist status and some have have being a tourist thrust upon them–usually by their spouse.”–

Paraphrase of Shakespeare


Are you smarter than an 8th grade slacker?


546983_10152366989950515_2036565039_nToday we visited–with my wife and two teen kids–the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Greece.

As we walked by where some of our civilization’s earliest and greatest minds philosophized about the nature of democracy, ethics and the the meaning of life, my mind raced to try to recall a childhood school lesson about this place’s historic significance.

I almost started my impromptu lecture before a full thought had fallen into place….but then caught myself when I realized what the full thought was. And it was this.

“Johnny and Maggie, I’m going to tell you my story about learning about the Acropolis and Parthenon. It’s funny, so you’ll like it. When I was in Mrs Hughes eighth grade world civilization class we studied these great Greece structures and their significance –and had a pop quiz one morning to name the Parthenon, Acropolis and one other structure I can’t remember.

Look, I wasn’t a really, really, really good student back then. In fact, I wasn’t even a good student. So, I hadn’t read the assignment and, although I hate to admit doing this, I was sitting next to a smart student and craned my neck straining to see the answer and copy it down myself. I rationalized it was only a pop quiz and the first two weeks of classes and I wouldn’t do it again.

What I saw written on the good student’s page looked like a foreign language. “What kinds of names are these? I wondered.

I did the best I could copying down my friend’s answers one letter at a time and hoping for the best. The next day was relieved to see I had gotten a passing grade on the quiz —but noted a written comment, “John, your spelling is terrible!!”



“If I’d only known then what I know now about what’s important in life, I would have done things very different.”

No, you wouldn’t have. Or at least, No, I wouldn’t have. And I just realized this harsh truth fully today for the first time

430894_10152367121725515_962692584_nWhen I was 20 years old I had the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a semester abroad traveling to less developed countries and seeing these countries, their people and their cultures first hand. But it was also a low point in my life where shallowness (masquerading as existential angst) and excessive alcohol combined to cause me to miss out on taking full advantage of my brief time in these foreign countries. So I told myself for several decades.

Back then I had a Walkman I carried with me everywhere and always had my headphones on. My roommate once yelled (laughing and frustrated), “If I hear the song Rainmaker or Low Spark of High Heeled Boys again by Traffic one more time —I’m going to scream and then unravel your cassette tape!”

And so today, back in a poor foreign country for the first time in nearly 30 years, my tourism habits should have been much more structured and refined. But there I was, walking through the Acropolis in Greece and taking pictures of the Parthenon, with my ear buds in from my iPod and listening to, unbelievably, Steve Winwood singing Can’t Find My Way Home –and singing under my breath just low enough so no one will hear me. And even dancing ever-so-slightly too.

And I “got it.” No. I would never have been any different “Had I known then what I know now.” Or at least not that different. At best, I would have handled life about the same way as I did the first time around. Just maybe picked a slightly better song from a slightly different band but with the same lead singer to listen to while being irresponsible.

And not riding elephants and wearing tie-dye shirts.

(Please note today I wasn’t wearing Tie-Dye but rather a cream colored pull-over sweater from Jos. A. Banks. And long pants.)


“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,it is still a beautiful world.”

Desiserata -Max Ehrmann


Vacation mindsets.

When I am on a vacation, I think of how to do as little as possible, if I think at all.

My wife, on the other hand, the consummate planner, prefers to treat vacations as an opportunity to earn extra college credit.I think she may secretly be working on her masters this trip.

I, on the other hand, am opting for the GED approach.

Which one is smarter?

I’m afraid I’m not smart enough to know the answer to that.

Oh, and who planned out this entire vacation?

That would be my wife.

Thank you, honey.

I’ll be there in a minute. Studying for my GED right now. ; )


When trying to keep your wits about you in a remote part of the world, I’m happy to report Eric Clapton works as well as ever. Maybe better.


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