Saturday, December 25, 2010

B.I.N.G.hOme. A Very Merry Christmas

Waking up to an empty apartment on Christmas morning is not something I have ever wished to do, nor after doing it this Christmas, do I ever wish to do it again. I believe that it was just last Christmas that my mom said to me that she wished she would never have to wake up alone on Christmas day, and now, I completely understand.

But that doesn’t mean you have to go the whole day on your own—alone—without “home,” without family. You can turn that lonely morning into a day full of happiness and community, a day full of spirit and surprise, a day full of love. And that’s just what I did this Christmas.

Knowing that Christmas was coming up, and that I had no plans set in stone, I made arrangements to work at a soup kitchen, in Rome, with a few friends from the class I just finished taking in Florence. Each of us, without family, thought that giving back to the community and helping those who don’t have a true home here either, would be a good way to spend Christmas. And while our expectations were quite off from what we would actually be doing, the experience was not dull or disappointing in any way , shape, or form.

In fact, I think spending Christmas in this way, at the soup kitchen, was even more rewarding than other soup kitchen experiences that I have had. I think that this Christmas experience was a true eye opener to just how many people are risk takers, leapers, and go-getters.

Walking into the church at 10:15 AM to begin set up, the head of the program asked us to begin cutting the dessert cake for the meal. After piecing thirteen plates of cake together, we had some extra time to chat with some of the others who were working. We met a man from Ethiopia, a woman from Brazil, and a few people from the Phillipines. Struck by the fact that we were from America, and almost in awe, they talked to us and welcomed us. Soon after, we met a family who lives in Texas and who came to Rome for the holidays. Thinking that we would be working with all italians, I was suddenly intrigued by the diversity of this group.

And then as people started filtering into the church for the four course meal, it dawned on me that this was not your every day soup kitchen that serves people who don’t have any food or shelter. This was something much more different, something uniquely diverse, and something I would have never imagined experiencing before this day. The people walking in were not struggling—and if they were—they hid it well—instead they were people who were either alone for Christmas, like I was when I woke up, or they were people who were traveling with no where else to go on Christmas. We leaned a lot of this as a priest began to make the first toast of the Christmas lunch by saying that he was glad to have the visitors and the travelers in attendance.

Suddenly, I felt less like a helper,, and more like an insider. Less like I was doing good, and more like I was getting to have a Christmas. And while I really wanted to spend the Christmas by giving back to the community on a day where I couldn’t give my friends or family at home anything under their tree, I found this to be a pleasant surprise.

Not before long, I got to talking to a student from Rome who told me about how much she loved Europe and all of her favorite places to go. Then it was on to three people from the Ukraine, and a couple from the Philippines, all who expressed great interest in talking and learning about the American culture while I attempted to learn about each of their own.

Wearing my Santa hat, I became the prime target for helping to hand out gifts with the true man that they dressed up as Santa. Seeing smiles on strangers faces over presents with big green bows made me smile. Seeing smiles on so many people from so many different places, all together, in one place, made me smile. Experiencing this first Christmas, away, like this, made me smile.

And as one of the organizers opened up a box of bingo cards to be played in the closing of the day at the church, all I could think about was how I felt like I had already won, like all five numbers across the center of my board had been called, how I had found h”o”me in a day when I felt like home was impossible to have. And as I studied the people’s faces around me, I began to think that they were feeling the same way, as if the organizer had just called all our numbers in perfect order…as if we had each just gotten B.I.N.G.hOme.

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