Elli Stassinopoulos

Answer one question or many - using words, photos or other media.

Did Elli have a favorite phrase or common mannerism?

Arianna Huffington
One of my mother's gifts was to be in a constant state of wonder at the world around her. Whether she was washing dishes or feeding seagulls at the beach or reprimanding overworking businessmen, she maintained her sense of wonder at life. And whenever I'd complain or was upset about something in my own life, my mother had the same advice: "Darling, just change the channel. You are in control of the clicker. Don't replay the bad, scary movie."
Agapi Stassinopoulos

In moments of indecision, of not knowing what to do or which direction to turn in, she would absolutely relieve any self-imposed pressure by saying, “Darling, let it marinate”—allowing us the luxury of time. She came from the knowing that there is no urgency in spirit.

This was her signature phrase to shift from a negative thinking pattern to a more positive mindset, from disappointment to trust, from sadness to joy, from upset to humor, from rushing to relaxation. If someone around her was having a panic attack, my mother would simply shout out, “Change the channel!” It was like a directive to your brain to go in a different direction—and by god it worked.

In the midst of our to-do lists, multitasking, and moving from one thing to the other, she would find ways to connect with the bank teller, the waiter serving the food, the supermarket cashier, the nurse at the hospital—anyone and everyone who crossed her path. An outing with her was completely unpredictable and had no boundaries of time. You never knew who my mother would end up engaging with or who she would feel compelled to connect with in the moment.

One time, someone complimented my mother on her necklace. She said, “Here, take it. It’s for you.” The person said, “Thank you so much, but what can I give you back?” She replied, “Darling, it’s an offering, not a trade.” The person was speechless. My mother used to say to me, “In a world that has learned everything is about trading, offering is how we experience the generosity of spirit.”

There were many times that I would feel frustrated in getting something done or getting something I wanted, and not quite knowing how to accomplish it. She would always say, “Give it your full attention. There’s nothing you can’t achieve if you give it your full attention. But if you are distracted or fragmented, you won’t be able to see clearly or perform to your full potential.” From the simple tasks of washing dishes and making your bed to a major project, if you give your full attention, you will experience joy, fulfillment, and your power.

What did you learn from Elli?

Agapi Stassinopoulos
Under my mother’s guidance, I grew up having no sense of hierarchy in the world, just a feeling of our fundamental sameness. This is how my mother put it: if a group of people were on a sinking ship, it wouldn’t matter who they were or what they did for a living. You wouldn’t rescue the first-class passengers first and the cabin stewards last; you would reach out to them all. So why should it be any different when the ship isn’t sinking?

Living by her example, surrounded by the warmth of her open mind and generous spirit, helped me develop a sense of myself that would not change whether people had more or less material success or worldly acclaim than I had. It was wonderful to be able to meet people without making these judgments—not evaluating them on the basis of what they had achieved or collected materially in order to decide how I should behave with them. I didn’t need to alter me to fit some perception of what other people expected. It was so liberating to know I could simply, authentically, be myself—and enjoy and be enriched by the authentic gifts of others.
Arianna Huffington
My mother instilled in me that failure was not something to be afraid of, that it was not the opposite of success. It was a steppingstone to success. So I had no fear of failure. Perseverance is everything. I don’t give up. Everybody has failures, but successful people keep on going.

There was always that combination of making me believe I could do anything and that if I failed she wouldn't love me any less. It was absolute, unconditional love. You could try anything, because failure was not a problem.

When did Elli show courage?

Arianna Huffington
One other thing to add to the story Agapi told below (read first). When the soldiers asked her if there were any Jews among them, she unhesitatingly replied, 'no.' When she had told this story to my children once, I remember one of them asking, 'So, Yaya [Greek for grandmother] -- you lied?' [Her answer:] 'To save two lives? You bet I did' ... giving them an important lesson in ethics and courage.
Agapi Stassinopoulos
My mother had joined the Greek Red Cross as a nurse when the Second World War broke out. ... In the remote cabin where they tended the wounded, they were also sheltering two Jewish girls in flight from the Nazis and their Greek collaborators. One night, my mother was sitting combing her hair ... when three German soldiers burst in with their guns and opened fire, shouting orders to give up the Jews they were hiding. The woman next to her was hit and fell to the ground. In an instant, without a thought for what might happen to her, my mother rose up and in fluent German said, "Put your guns down! You have no right to shoot -- we are Red Cross!" In the next instant, she saw the three Germans lower their guns.

What did Elli dislike?

Arianna Huffington

She hated multitasking. In fact, the last time my mother got angry with me before she died was when she saw me reading my email and talking to my children at the same time.

"I abhor multitasking," she said, in a Greek accent that puts mine to shame. In other words, being connected in a shallow way to the entire world can prevent us from being deeply connected to those closest to us -- including ourselves. And that is where wisdom is found.

What are your best memories of time together?

Agapi Stassinopoulos
So many. But this one sticks in my mind of late: When I moved to New York to live on my own, it was a very challenging, lonely time. I was writing my first book and I missed my family. My mother would call me and sing different Greek songs about love and life and the sea. She would even leave them on my answering machine. Now, if I'm worried or upset, I'll do this myself. I don't care where I am. I sing to calm myself down, to release the stress.

What was Elli's attitude toward wealth?

Arianna Huffington
We didn't have a lot of money but mom was always able to conjure up what we needed, including a good education and healthy food. She only owned two dresses and never spent anything on herself. I remember her selling her last pair of little gold earrings. She borrowed from anyone she could so that her two daughters could go to college, and no matter how little we had, she never failed to give to others with even less and to make us feel that we were bigger than our circumstances.

What do you remember about the day she died?

Agapi Stassinopoulos
The way she died was so typical. She had fallen and was sitting on the floor in a large dressing room in our house. I fear she'd die if I didn't call the paramedics. But she kept saying no, "I'm fine." A nurse came instead and we continued to sit there.she asked me to open a bottle of red wine and pour glasses for everyone. We all sat there, chatting and telling stories, for an hour or more, waiting for her to get up. There she was on the floor with a beautiful turquoise sarong wrapped around her, making sure we were all having a good time. It sounds surreal now, and it was surreal even then. I had the sense that something larger was moving all of us, keeping us from taking any action, so that my mother would have the chance to pass the way she wanted to pass. When I look back, it’s as if Spirit was saying, Relax—there’s nothing you need to do. We’ve got her now. Then suddenly her head fell forward and she was gone.

Later, I found out my mother had confided to the housekeeper that she knew she had suffered a stroke and her time had come. She asked her not to tell us, and the housekeeper, who had known and loved my mother for years, understood why and honored her wishes. My mother knew that we would insist on getting her to the hospital, and she didn’t want to die in the hospital. She wanted to be at home, with her daughters and her precious granddaughters around her, in the warmth of those she loved and who loved her.

She didn’t want to miss the moment.

How would Elli most want to be remembered?

If you could send Elli a message now, what would you say?

What made Elli laugh?

What will you miss most about Elli?

What's your favorite picture of Elli?