I travel the world and remember Christmas Eves where I was all alone, family in the US, and still the opportunity of loving kindness reigned.
Austria, Salzburg, Snow Storm, Dec. 24 1995
I got off a whacky tourist bus that had taken us to somewhere on the ice where only the Austrians could sing Silent Night holy Night. As I got off the bus, completely alone, and lost, it was 8PM and the streets were dark. I stopped an older woman and asked directions. She gave them to me and then started to cry.
I asked if I could help. She told me that her family had not invited her for Christmas. I smiled, now tearing up myself. I said, I left my family to be here and I am all alone as well. We hugged and held that hug in the snow for a long time. EVERY Christmas eve, I return to that snowstorm in Austria and she is there with me.
Nicaragua: Dec. 24, post Hurricane Mitch, 1997?
I was in country to document the aftermath of the Hurricane as well as bring toys and medicines that were NOT being delivered officially. My friend, Maria, had taken me to where the refugees were staying. In that moment, I recognized the parents of kids, and they were the ones I had known in 1965 when I had actually worked in their village below the volcano, Postulate..
They were humble and asked me to bring toys. I went back and got all the toys that weren’t already given away. When Maria and I returned to the compound, we noticed a young woman sitting in dumb shock in a chair. I asked what had happened and Maria said, she was in the mud slide at Poseltega and lost all 5 children, her parents and her brother. In that moment, I was left without words. I asked Maria: Please translate for me; I do not want to say this incorrectly. So I took the woman’s hands and said: There is no way I can possibly go to the depths of your grief, but I can promise you that I will pray for you and your family every time I think of you. She suddenly burst into sobs from dumb grief. Maria came around and we sandwiched this gentle woman in our arms. A pilot friend had given me a tickle me Elmo toy as I left. I handed her the toy and in 30 minutes, I came back to check on her. She was surrounded by kids and smiling as she pushed the button on the paw of Elmo.
I often wonder how she is, and sense she has gone on with her life and hopefully has a new family. Practical as I am, I would have brought her batteries for Elmo. In Spanish: La Vida Continua. Not one Christmas eve since, have I not taken her quietly in my arms.
Nicaragua: Dec 24, post Hurricane Mitch, 1997?
I had gone to Nicaragua to do Operation Toy Box. I was unceremoniously dumped off at a house in the hills. As I opened the door of the tiny house, no one was there at the moment, but the room was filled with glowing lights and Silent Night Holy Night was playing in Spanish from some speakers.
When the family returned, we sat to eat dinner. NO ONE spoke English. The host said: in Spanish, Geri, please say the grace. I stumbled to try to conjugate my verbs correctly, and then when I finished he said, in Spanish: Close your eyes. I did. We bless your family. Now, open your eyes. This is YOUR family before you now.
Tanzania Dec 24 2010
I had done some documentary work in Uganda and flew to Tanzania to be with a friend of the UN.
She is not known for her high practical skills so I was placed in charge of going to the market with her maid to buy things for dinner. At 5PM, high officials of the UN Tribunal for Rwanda were due to arrive. The tree was not trimmed. Presents weren’t wrapped and dogs were not put away.
Apparently the dogs had nipped the husband of the Pakistani head of that org, and so we had to put them (the pups) in lock up. I jammed them quickly into the back bedroom, barking merrily, as the car arrived with the diplomats.
As we all decorated the tree together, I could not help but wonder if that was a true path to world peace. My friend may not be highly practical but she is the Queen of mixing cultures happily.
Tanzania Dec. 24 2010
A friend in Arusha got a call at midnight. His and our close friend John, the Leopard Man, had been found dead in his room. Lupo quickly dressed and drove to Leopard man’s home. He washed his dear friend and then carried him to the land rover. By 2AM, he was at the hospital parking lot.
He told me that with all the shenanigans on this particular evening, a dead person was not exactly priority.
Lupo paused to light a cigarette and a car pulled up quickly next to him. A woman in full blown child birth was in the back seat. Again, not exactly a priority at this time. He helped deliver the baby and thought: Heck, I just lost my best friend in the world, and he’s here in the back of the land rover. And then he smiled: Leopard Man would love the irony: going out and making room for a new soul, this baby we had just delivered.
Wherever you are, Be blessed this Christmas, my friend. Be blessed.