My story is a shared story. Well, not exactly. Everyone has a unique story. Yet there is a common thread that ties us all together. It might not be tangible or visible, but it is felt.

By sharing mine—that may or may not look very different from yours—I hope that it inspires you to reflect on your own. To see the similarities and differences, but most importantly to find a connection. There is a point where we can all meet. We bring with us each our own stories. Perspectives. A collection of experiences. They shape us. They heal us. They transform us. From our roots we grow, our branches extending upward and outward. Let’s honor those roots so we can keep growing, individually and collectively.

This is my story.

An ode to my roots.

By creating space for mine, I’m also holding space for yours. These are the pieces of me. All the things that have broken and put me back together. The challenges, losses & trauma. The joy, wins & healing. Staying connected to all of it, so that I can be whole. Holding it all with the same amount of love, so it is alchemized & transformed.

My last name, Eleftheriou, translates to “freedom.” It’s a word that sinks deeply into my soul. Throughout my life, I’ve thought a lot about what freedom means, and how the idea of it has evolved over time and means different things to different people. My family has fought for their own freedom for generations. Something I fight for is the freedom to be who I truly am in this world. However, trees grow in different climates with different resources. To live, they adapt. A tree in a desert grows quite differently from a tree in a rainforest.

My idea of freedom today is different from previous generations in my lineage. For my family, in the past, freedom looked like peace from civil and world wars and access to food, water, and shelter. Survival and physical safety came first—and family. Family was always at the core, and this hope that the quality of life could be improved for the next generations. That love, that life force, reverberates outwards from the solid core of the trunk to the nimble leaves. It’s a continuation, and although the environment may change, the tree supports growth—as long as the roots are supported. It’s an unconditional and powerful love that is deeply nourishing. I’m named after my grandmother. As my muse for Syndesi, she has shaped and inspired me in more ways than words can describe. We are part of this tree that does not begin or end with us—it runs infinitely in both directions. It’s a tree that’s rooted and keeps growing. We all are connected in this way. The love keeps reverberating outwards from this source with each generation and unites us.

My father immigrated to the United States when he was nineteen years old. With $37 dollars in his pocket, he began again. Our tree starts to grow in a new direction. He grew up in Greece under challenging circumstances, and without fundamental necessities that I take for granted, like running water, electricity, plumbing, food safety, and basic health care. With every set of challenges, there is a set of gifts, and God smiled upon these Greek people when he gave them Potamia. Potamia, the beautiful village where my father and his family grew up. Sitting at the bottom of awe spiring mountains with fields, forests, rivers, and even the sea, the earth supported them. Providing my family with work, they tended to the farm everyday while going to school to make ends meet. My father’s main concern at the time was getting out of poverty and improving his current situation.

He grew up fast, but he was still a child. He had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. The sport was his solace, his escape from the struggles he was facing daily. Playing barefoot on the dirt with a makeshift field, the world felt big and wide, open to opportunities and imagination. A bud sprouts on this tree. His parents, my grandparents, didn’t see the use in it—it was a waste of time, a distraction from more important matters. Their mindset was set from a generation prior, one where wars reigned and everyday was life or death. My grandmother once hid in a cave from bombs exploding over her village, and another time in an oven to escape being caught to fight in a civil war.

In their eyes, they didn’t see how a sport played for joy had a place in life. They had their dreams, too, they just took a backseat in the fight for survival. And my father still dreamed. He dreamed his way up to the call from a professional Greek soccer team. At the same time, his Visa got approved to go to the United States. He left his current dream to chase another. The opportunity was too sweet—a chance to leave all the suffering and pain from childhood behind and start fresh. Some roots are severed. My grandparents follow my dad and his three siblings to a new country in their 50’s, abandoning their livelihoods to stay together. This section of the tree remains intact.

Then I’m born. With my mother also Greek, I still feel connected to my roots, but I’m in a different country. The tree has new seeds planted. Where do I belong, here or there? I feel a little bit of an outsider in both places. As with all generations, things are passed down. My father’s soccer dreams are passed to me. His dreams represent more than a sport. They speak for a collective of unvoiced and unrealized dreams of an entire lineage—hopes, longings, and desires for the true embodiment of freedom. They have reached a point in the lineage, in the branches and buds of the tree, where the soil is fertile enough for it to be realized. The environment can support it.

Put into a sport I’m not even sure how I feel about, I feel the weight of keeping this dream alive. I disconnect from myself even further to tend to this other part of the tree that needs care. My roots are still alive, they just dry up. I’m grateful for my soccer experience. It shaped the person I am today—it taught me many lessons, inspired healing, and brought out a resilience in me I didn’t even know I had. It took courage to leave. To stop chasing someone else’s dream and discover my own. Playing soccer has always been an act of love. My father played for the love of a life he knew he was capable of living, and I played for my love for him and our family. We both played for our freedom. That’s what soccer represents to me, and it holds a special place in my heart. To not acknowledge this challenging experience would be to not acknowledge a piece of myself, and a part of the tree that grew from my roots. All parts of the tree need tending to.

Even though this soccer dream was not fully realized, a beautiful life was created, and my generation received all the physical security and safety that the previous did not. Together, my family opened a restaurant in Long Beach, California called Fantastic Burgers. Created with all the love, determination, and grit this family cultivated over time, it did well. With the same work ethic cultivated in their upbringing, this restaurant provided for the family. I have endless gratitude and admiration for this part of my lineage’s story. Love is at the core of this work, and I feel it so strongly pulsing through me, a force much larger than me, and it carries me forward. My grandmother laid the foundation for us all. Her love poured out into us, nourishing our souls. And that love came from somewhere, too, the ones who came before her. That nourishment gave me the opportunity to live a life that deep down they knew was possible—a new sense of freedom. Eleftheriou.

Now able to fill my own cup, and to even water parts of the tree that were neglected, I began to heal. I feel connected to all parts of this tree we stem from. I want to keep the whole of it alive. By telling stories and remembering where we come from, it’s possible. It heals the past, present, and future. It is all transformed by love, by reconnecting to it, the source, the roots. I see the beauty in all of it, the light, the dark, the in-between. It all belongs. It all has a place. It all has something to share and teach. Photography has given me the lens to see this infinite beauty in the world and share it with others. It alchemizes the many little pieces of life by shedding light on them. My collection of photos is an offering of the beauty I see.

By discovering my roots, I discover myself. Embodying who I am to its fullest extent, so the leaves of my tree are bushy and bright and dance in the wind. So that I may observe, connect, and support the surrounding trees in our ecosystem from a full cup—community and service.

Honor your roots. Honor yourself.
All of it. You are whole.

The power of connection heals us all.

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