Due to a myriad of reasons, for the first time that I can remember, I was not looking forward to the holiday season this year. We put a tree up but there were no gifts, we did not send cards out, and we had decided to stay home alone this year. I just wanted to get through christmas day and get on with next year.
However, unbeknown to me, life had other plans. On Monday, while talking to a friend who was telling me about a homeless family who was living in their car, I found myself crying. I was so touched and hurt over the situation, because I knew that but for the grace of god, that could be me. More than once when Paul was unemployed, I discovered the fear of being homeless. He was denied unemployment so we had no income during those seven weeks. Our savings were rapidly being used and we knew how many more weeks we could go before we were done. If worse came to worse, and we had to choose between having a roof over our head or being homeless, we knew we could go to British Columbia and stay with his sister and brother-in-law, but we certainly did not want to do that. So our plight had actually put me in a place of thinking what it might feel like to be homeless.
Relieved because my husband had a job again, and knowing that we’d continue to have a roof over our head, I decided to see if there was some way we could reach out to the homeless in our community. What better way to show our appreciation to creator energy than to offer our services to those less fortunate. I posted something on Facebook and one of my friends sent me suggestions of places to contact. I called the local Rescue Mission and found out they were still looking for volunteers for christmas, so within a day we were signed up to help.
We arrived at the Mission at 11:00 AM and went through a brief orientation. I was so impressed with the turnout of people wanting to spend their christmas giving to the community. Everyone was excited and full of good cheer over being able to help in some small way.
My heart filled with thanksgiving as I listened to the CEO of the Mission tell what was required of us during the christmas feast. The # 1 thing was to keep the platters and bowls filled with food, to offer as many helpings as people wanted, to let them take to-go bags with them, and to welcome them and let them know they were cared for. The # 2 thing was to let people stay at our table as long as they wanted. She said some would come in and just want to sit and talk to people who would listen, others needed the comfort of being in a caring circle, and some needed the warmth of the building. With that mission in mind, we were led into the dining hall and told to pick a table.
Paul and I were table hosts. There were twenty-five tables of eight, and we hosted six guests at a time. A volunteer would bring a group to our table, and after we welcomed them and introduced ourselves, we’d have them tell everyone their name. We’d then hold hands and ask for a volunteer at the table to say a blessing. The feast was served family style, which required Paul and I to go back and forth to the kitchen to get bowls and platters of food to place on the table. Part of our job was to keep the bowls full and to engage in conversation with our guests.
Our first table had nine people and four of them were children. One of the mothers had three small boys, ages two to six. Another mother had an eighteen month old. Most of our conversation was with the children, as they excitedly told us of the toys they’d gotten from Santa. I found out from the mothers that the local angel tree had provided a wonderful christmas for their children.
I bonded quickly with two of the little boys who were brothers. As I was talking to them about their toys, the little one who was four told me he had not been able to play with his Thomas the Train toy yet. I asked him why, and the six-year old brother hollered out, “Because he pissed on himself.” Immediately the little four-year old, covered his eyes, tried to hide himself and started crying. My heart broke.
Seeing his shame and wanting to comfort him, I scooped him up in my arms. I whispered in his ear,” It’s okay little sweetie. I see what you’re feeling, and it’s okay.” I let him know that when I was a little girl, I used to pee my bed and my pants too, and I remembered how I felt when people made fun of me. I talked to him about how precious and lovable he was, and let him know that he was not going to pee on himself forever.
At that time the older brother came up to me to snuggle so I reached out and pulled him into the circle of my arms. I quietly talked to him about how his little brother could not control whether he peed in the bed, and about how he could be a good big brother by loving and protecting the younger ones. I suggested he might want to apologize to the little brother and he swiftly reached out and hugged his younger sibling and said, “I’m sorry.” About then, the mother stood up and said it was time to go, and she began to get her children together. That family left our table but they did not leave my heart, and I believe my words and comfort to those little boys will not leave their hearts either.
We had four more tables of guest, and there was at least one person in each group who I was able to identify and bond with. There was a young man whose house and everything in it had burned, an older woman who had no family and nowhere to go, and many other families and single men and women. I did not have a chance to hear everyone’s story, because many were not talking, so I did not press them. Some just needed to escape into an atmosphere of good humor and cheer.
The christmas feast was over at four-thirty and as Paul and I helped to clean up and put food away, we kept talking about how tired we were, and what a wonderful day it had been. We were both physically exhausted from all the trips we made back and forth to the kitchen, the dessert table, the clean-up station, and to the pantry for clean tablecloths and new place settings. It was a busy afternoon filled with a flurry of activity.
On the way home and for the rest of the evening we talked about our day, and we agreed that we went to the shelter with the intention of giving, but that we received far more than we were able to give. The gratitude from the people we served at our table was overwhelming. The majority of them blessed us and thanked us for the food, the good wishes, and the service. One man even reached in his pocket, pulled out a crumpled $1.00 bill, and offered it to me as a gesture of thanks for serving him.
As I lay in bed last night I thought about how I had dreaded christmas all month. Every year, I look forward to the benevolent Spirit of christmas, which is centered around family, and I was sad because I knew this was going to be a christmas without family. However, what I learned yesterday, was that though it was just me and Paul, we had been surrounded by our human family. I got to see the concept of family on a larger scale and was overwhelmed by the enormity of what I saw. To get to spend the holiday with over six-hundred family members who we had never met before was heartwarming.
Though there were no gifts under our tree, we’d received the greatest gift of all because our hearts overflowed with love and joy. I drifted off to sleep realizing that this was the best christmas ever.