“It’s called perspective.”

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The grandmotherly woman tugged gently on my arm, silently commanding me to stop walking for a moment.

“Oh, the women’s coats in the size you requested are over that way a little more, ma’am,” I said. “Would you like me to bring the rack closer to you?”

We were at St. Vincent de Paul’s second winter coat distribution, and I was just starting the process of helping Mrs. Williams* select a coat for her friend who was in need. It was the end of the day, and most of our clients and volunteers had already said their goodbyes and cleared out of the old warehouse where the distribution was held. I was pretty sure the dear lady had arrived only about a minute before the event was officially over, so it wouldn’t be a problem to move the rack for her… not to mention it could help speed up the process and maybe get everybody out the door a little sooner. After all, my toes were growing a little numb from spending the last few hours in the unheated, drafty old building. Although I had enjoyed the long morning of helping our neighbors, I was looking forward to a quiet Saturday afternoon at the VVC House. I thought through my to-do list, mentally adding that I should take a nap and do my laundry, especially since the knees of my coziest jeans were now filthy from kneeling on the dusty warehouse floor to photograph children in their new coats.

Mrs. William’s voice brought me back to the present. “Don’t worry about moving anything, honey. I’m fine walking. I just want us to stop a minute, because this is just beautiful.” She smiled and turned slowly in a circle, gazing upward the whole time. “Mmm. Look at it. Just beautiful.”

I nodded, thinking she was talking about the Christmas decorations that some volunteers had hung from the ceiling yesterday to make this warehouse, the old Young & Bertke building, a cheerier place to be.  “Yeah, I think a few high schoolers came and helped put up the ornaments and things. They did a good job, didn’t they?”

“Well, yes, they did. But I wasn’t really talking about that. I meant the building itself.”

“Oh… Sorry. The building?”

“Yes, of course. Don’t you think it’s beautiful, honey?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I almost wanted to laugh, the idea was so foreign. “Actually, I’d be guilty of saying it’s pretty horrible. The lighting in here is bad, everything is dusty, and I think it’s making me sneeze. I don’t know, the walls are gray and the paint is peeling. I feel kind of bad having people come in here, really.”

She shook her head as if she were sorry for me, then smiled. “Oh, no, don’t feel bad. You mean to tell me you’ve been in here taking pictures of kids this whole day and haven’t noticed the beauty of this place? You’re not looking hard enough. Look up. Look around. This place has power. This place has a story.”

She put her hand on my arm again and motioned for me to continue escorting her along our route to the rack of coats. With her free hand, though, she pointed out different architectural aspects she found beautiful.

“Look at that pipe up there. Someone wrote something on it, looks like probably back in 1948. Beautiful. Look at these bricks. See how the light is coming through the window right there? They don’t make buildings like this anymore. It’s beautiful, don’t you think?”

I grinned. “When you look at it that way, it sure is.”

“That’s why you have to look at things differently sometimes,” she said. “It’s called perspective. I can tell you have perspective, because you’re helping here. You see people that other folks might not see as valuable, but you see what makes them beautiful. Kind of like how I do with this building. We have to see them all as beautiful, see their story and see their potential. What’s your story?”

As we moved to picking out a new coat for her friend, I told her about how I was doing a year of service with St. Vincent de Paul.

She wanted to know how long I would be working there. “I’ll have to come visit you sometime before this August, then. After all, now that we’ve talked a while, I’ll always consider you one of my grandbabies. And you’ll remember me, I know. Just call me Grandmother. I’m so glad I met you today.”

And with that, Grandmother hugged me and took my arm again. As I helped her carry the coat to her car, she told me that what I was doing as a Vincentian Volunteer was beautiful, but all I could do was thank her for the beauty she had brought to my own life that day.

*Name has been changed.

attachment (1)Rachel Eldridge joins us from New Albany, IN, by way of Indiana Wesleyan University. Rachel has many perspectives through which she sees the work of St. Vincent de Paul, as she splits her time putting her Communications degree to work with our Community Relations department and working directly with our neighbors in need in Social Services. Rachel’s thoughtfulness shines not only through this story, but also in her daily interactions with clients, staff, volunteers, and her VVC community members alike.

 

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Home for the Holidays

This couple of days I have been waking up with a heavy heart. The world’s brokenness has been weighing on me; reading the news of people fleeing war-torn area and thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, and in our immediate neighbors looking for place to call it a home. The fact that I cannot do anything to do lessen the suffering, and that I am not going to be home for Christmas is disheartening.

I get a call from my parents telling me about Christmas carolers singing from house to house that is on in full swing back home in India. I get teary-eyed. As the season of Advent (almost) comes to a close and Christmas is at hand, everyone is caught up decorating, rushing to get done with the shopping lists and making plans for being home for the holidays. In the midst of which we tend to listen very little or completely push aside the real meaning of the season – the season of love.

The memories come swishing like a flood when I most want not to surface my thoughts. I am caught unaware. I am thinking of the colorful decorations; the village church all decked out, my house and neighbors; makeshift paper stars hanging at every house rooftop, the nativity scenes and aroma of the traditional delicacies being prepared at every household during Christmas Eve.

For the first time in 23 years – I am going to be away from home for Christmas and New Year. It is not easy. Not to make a connection between different situations, but I am reminded of how blessed I am to have friends & their family who are ready to welcome me to their home, whereas there are thousands of Syrian refugees who, during this time of the year are forcefully separated from their loved ones. This puts my life into perspective. I have nothing to complain about.

I think back about my “yes” to doing a year of service program. Last year when I was home for Christmas I was discussing it with my parents, and here I am today. Like I said, it is not easy, but it is not impossible either. I am reminded of Mother Mary’s incredible role in the story of the birth of Christ. She said “yes” to be the bearer of the son of God. A huge responsibility indeed.

I couldn’t have been glad. Yes, of course there is no denying the fact I will miss being home. Sitting around an outdoor bonfire eating maidu (mashed rice balls slowly grilled in the bonfire) & aauwaing (sticky rice wrapped in a heart-shaped, natural aroma-filled leaf) with immediate family and neighbors the seven days leading up to Christmas day. Simply being together in each other’s presence, sharing the gift of togetherness.

My day turns around. I smile. I am reminded I get to spend Christmas at a new place, surrounded by new friends who have become a family. I couldn’t sulk for long. How could I?! I read in an online subscription paper earlier today there are many who stepped up to save the lives of those fleeing the war. Many went two steps ahead to reach out to and sign petitions to find them a home and resettlement in America. That is love. Here at St. Vincent de Paul, I see many generous hearts, donors, well-wishers, staff and volunteers selflessly giving their time, energy & money for neighbors who could use an extra hand to lift them up this season. One of my VVC community members invites me to her house. The heartwarming surprises from Secret Santa at work. The clients I saw at work today were so joyful, it was contagious. By lunchtime, my spirits had been lifted. They were so full of warmth I couldn’t help but smile. I ate and laughed as we had the Christmas luncheon.

Everyone I am surrounded with has been nothing but all loving and supportive. Over Thanksgiving, I had not just one but two Thanksgivings – one at my program director’s house where I got to play with the kids, and then caught up with friends I haven’t seen since high school, who I get to see again for Christmas, as they are also away from home in the States for their education. I have found a home away from home. I have so much to be thankful for & cherish those winter days spent at home and relive it here in a new fashion.

It’s sometimes hard to see the light when I am constantly reading tragic news stories and hearing about the latest violation of human rights. The world can be harsh. But there truly is an unconditional love of God as we celebrate the season of love. I am truly surrounded by so much love and grace. I feel blessed. They have brought me out of my gloom and made me remember why it’s worth waking up each day with gratitude.

Thank you all for being a part of my life & making this season a cheerful one. Remember to celebrate this Christmas with a wide smile, hug your loved ones tighter, and most of all, offer a wider heart to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s where the true meaning of Christmas lies.

2012_AdvanceChristmasKaruna Reang has a great knowledge of and passion for issues of social justice, as is evident in this thoughtful and compassionate response to the refugee crisis. Her thoughtfulness reaches far and near, from world events to her own VVC community, in the ways she responds to the needs and honors the dignity of all those she encounters.

 

Am I mindful of the things that take place in my life?

It is almost my three months completion at St. Vincent de Paul today as I write this. From the wonderful community I share the living space with to daily & quiet morning walks, interactions with clients, impromptu deep & philosophical conversations with staffs in the copy room, eating lunch together, to sharing laughters & snacks with my supervisor, etc. All these, in many ways, have shed a light on me. It is almost magical how time flies and little did I know what impact the surrounding can have on oneself.

There are times, actually most of the time, being mindful of oneself does not come easy – it slips off my mind easily without even knowing

When the alarm goes off and I jump out of the bed, the nature of the mind in that moment is already in ten things to-do list. The outlook calendar pops into my mind. It is so hard to take a moment, lie in bed and feel my body breathing. And remember, “yeah, brand new day and I’m still alive.”

However, sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night I am able to feel, almost reach out and touch the littleness of my being. I then ask myself, what it means to be alive, to be able to breathe, walk, talk, touch and see?

In these moments, I am forced to believe that there is a greater purpose for every one of our lives on this planet. The quest to truly finding the purpose may not come easy but each step we take, if we tread gently, we will see we are all here for a reason.

At the end of every day before I go to bed, I ask myself few (to many it seems trivial) questions, some obvious ones and few not as much, “did I prepare my lunch?”, “was I about the things that matter?” “did I try hard at things without worrying about the outcomes?” and most importantly, “did I love well today?”

These may seem simple yet I find these as the first step toward being at peace with myself & the surroundings – taking time for every little things happening in my vicinity, of how one’s conscious thought or/and action can impact the community. To me, it is as simple as smiling at someone walking past me as I walk from home to work and vice-versa. I softly repeat to myself, “it’s a great day to do something good for someone”.

It feels almost the world is smiling right back at me when I do this. This can seem trivial but this has helped me be a better version of myself this couple of weeks.

Mantra to live by: I am grateful for all that is unfolding in my life and all that is yet to come – (refer to “Try living with Lucie Fink” – refinery 29) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw-uE1-3ZqI

 

attachmentKaruna Reang joins us most recently from Stonehill College in Easton, MA.  Originally from Tripura, India, Karuna brings a deep longing for simplicity, a great sense of humor, and excellent culinary skills to her VVC community.  At work, you can find Karuna walking Pharmacy clients through their intake process – all with a smile.