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.
Karuna 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.