Having been born and raised in England, I am a huge sucker for Christmas. And, after years of not having a tree, thanks to Swami ji’s Grace and The Amazing Amazon Tree, I have had my twinkly Christmas tree and two stockings (one for myself and one for Bhagwan, of course), up in my room at the ashram since they arrived in October, oh and also Nat King Cole on repeat!
We teens and twenty-somethings, had given up our own Christmas celebrations and parties and had gone with our Panadava Sena group leaders to volunteer at a Crisis Christmas shelter.
These are shelters for the homeless, that, during a few weeks over the Christmas and New Year period, provide homeless guests with somewhere warm to rest, with nourishing food, and amenities like showers, and access to clothes, toiletries and information about getting government assistance or counselling etc.
During my first year volunteering with Crisis (I was around fifteen-years-old), they had set up in a huge warehouse in London. There were hundreds of volunteers and homeless guests. In different parts of the warehouse we’d put down bedding, tables, chairs, erected temporary food areas and activity areas where the guests could sleep, eat, and spend time with each other and the volunteers.
I was on the hairdressing stand that year, and I don’t remember exactly how many heads I washed and shaved over the days I was there, but it was a lot! Every homeless man wanted his head shaved clean so he wouldn’t have to worry about it for another year.
There was one middle-aged woman in particular, I remember. She didn’t speak English (I think she was Eastern European), so we couldn’t converse. Her shoulder length hair was completely matted as if stuck together by glue. It was full of some kind of an insect’s nest with thousands of eggs, stuck like a thick web, all in the back of her head.
I was determined to save her hair so she wouldn’t have to shave it all off. I washed and detangled her hair over hours.
In the meantime, we’d built up quite an audience of guests and volunteers alike. Everyone was waiting to see the extreme makeover about to take place. I managed to wash her hair and brush it all out, trimming it into a neat bob, then blow dried it for her until her blonde locks were clean, soft and shiny, and when she shook her head it looked beautifully windswept.
When we’d finished everybody around cheered. The woman, in her red coat, with rosy cheeks, didn’t stop smiling.
That was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
I made it a point to give my time over the holidays to Crisis again. Even in my thirties, although my partner was Catholic and we were celebrating Christmas with his family every year, I felt that Crisis was something I had to do.
Even if I could just give a day or two, even if I was only serving tea (where addicts would try and negotiate an insane number of spoonfuls of sugar from me. It took me a while to realise what they were doing!), or even if I was just peeling tons of potatoes, or sitting with the guests, playing quiz games, or getting to know them, and them getting to know me — I learned so much, and that time left me more fulfilled than I could ever image.
My Christmas dinner tasted all the more delicious and I couldn’t have been more grateful for what I had.
As Christmas is fast approaching and I’m in India now, it got me thinking: Most Indians don’t celebrate Christmas in the way that Christian Indians or the Western countries do, so perhaps it’s a good time of the year to think about our neighbours who celebrate the birth of Christ with a devotional sentiment. After all, he stood for compassion above everything else.
I don’t know what kind of Covid restrictions are being applied in your area, but how about contacting your local church to see if they need help in some way in the run up to Christmas. It’s quite likely they will be reaching out to members of their congregation who might be in need. Perhaps you could give your time, or donate food or clothing, or make a monetary donation, anything that might help them, even in some small way.
I can imagine how I would feel, if over Diwali for example, I were struggling to feed my family, and someone of a different faith saw how important it was to me and came to be of some assistance. I think that gesture of kindness would stay with me forever.
So, if you’re not going to be singing hymns at church or caroling with your family, instead of partying the Christmas holidays away, why not see what you can do for a church in your area, or a charitable organisation, or even just a neighbour who might appreciate some Christmas cookies, or something, anything at all!
That silent woman’s smiling face is one of the most transformative images ingrained in my mind. Within the memory I made with her, she has stayed with me forever. I don’t doubt I have stayed with her too, to some extent. We changed each other’s lives a little bit that day. For me, certainly, a seed was sewn. Ahh… I feel all warm and mushy inside now. You see, that’s the power of a memory like this!
So, on that note, let me wish you all a very warm hearted Christmas ahead, filled with joy, giving, kindness and laughter.
Have a wonderful time whatever you do and don’t forget to help thy neighbour.
Joy to the World; the Lord is come! (Swami ji 😊)
With His grace,
Sushree Diya ❤️