Finding Christmas In Colombia   3 comments

Christmas is a tough time of the year.  Especially for people who are far away from family, friends and their own country.  On the surface, or maybe better said in the media, it’s deck the halls, joy to the world and presents under the tree.   Below the surface, for a lot of people, there is a lot of pain, stress, melancholy and disconnectedness.  I got a call from my sister a couple of weeks ago telling me that her step son had committed suicide.  Last year, about the same time, a very prominent Universal Studios executive, with whom I was working, took her life.  What is it about this time of year that causes people to feel such sadness, such despair, such detachment?  After all, this is the season when people gather to recognize one of the greatest gifts humanity has every received.  Christian, Jew, Muslim – it really should not matter.  A gift is a gift.  And this one, Jesus, the universal symbol of peace, joy and sacrifice, should be a cause for celebration.

In my feeble attempt to focus on that lesson, a number of years ago, I tried to get away from the gift giving thing.  Colombia gave me some much needed distance on the billions of dollars and the politics of patriotism that fuel the overly conspicuous consumerism that is expected of us this time of year.  What I noticed this year is that the further I get away from the materialism the better I am able to integrate into my consciousness what I feel Christmas is really about.  Christmas is about giving and receiving love.  Not symbols of love.  Not bicycles, Wii’s, rings, purses and the thousands of other things people give each other this year.

From the middle of it, it is difficult to see the conflict the materialization of Christmas causes.  One does not have to go far to understand how our attitudes, behaviors and messages can be toxic and alienating this time of the year.  It is not bad children that receive lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings.  Unless we do something about it, it is poor children that receive the lump.  They are the ones that will go to bed hungry.  But the United States blaming the victim is a sport that keeps the “haves” comfortable in the privilege of having more.  The truth is that most of the people who are poor in the world are children.  Whether they are good or bad has nothing to do with it.

This Christmas Eve, my friend Carmen invited me to her Foundation’s program for the children of La Manga, a poor neighborhood in a part of Barranquilla with a reputation of being a little wild. When we arrived eighty or so children were seated outside of the library/community center she runs.  It is about the size of some of my friends’, in the United States, living room.  Some children, mostly between 5 and 12, came in the only best clothes they had.  Others came in the only clean clothes they had.  Their chairs were arranged in neat rows that had been brought outside from the library, as cars, buses and the occasional ambulance whizzed by.  There were not many parents with their children, maybe four or five.  The street is busy with people walking by and street vendors selling their goods.  The houses are built close together, mostly shanties, with bars on the windows.  It is too hot to sit indoors.  Homes in this part of time do not have air-conditioning.  So, walking the streets and sitting outside are ways to pass the time. You can tell, for many this will be an all-nighter.

I was along to give out the gifts that I had helped to buy.  They are simple gifts.  Each child will get a toy, a ball, and some books.  Some know me.  I have been here before.  The North Americano who speaks Spanish with a foreigner’s accent.  We spent almost two hours with the children on Christmas Eve.  Teenagers volunteered to help run the activities.  They had stuffed the bags ahead of time.  Stories are read, songs are sung and there is even an X Factor style singing contest.  Despite all that is going on around them, these children are attentive and so well-mannered I wonder about the competition kids in the USA will face if these children are given half a chance.  Some smile at me.  Some shyly come over to stand by my side.  Though many study English in school here, it is only for a few hours a week.  Kind of like me taking Spanish in high school.  Without the need to use the language you forget most of what you are taught. With each passing moment they strengthen my soul’s knowledge of the difference between waking up and receiving presents and spending time sharing the gift we were all given.

Seeing the connectedness of all things is a monumental task.  There are so many forces at work that see more profit in making use believe that it is all about us.  A misnomer our egos are only too glad to believe.  But long ago we were told otherwise.  The gift we are celebrating, Jesus, told us that it was not about us.  It is not about what we have.  It is not about who we have.  Jesus told us that it is about what we have in our hearts; the connections that we have to a greater good.  We are but tiny threads in a universal fabric.  Instead of focusing on expamding the tininess of our being, our celebrations should be about our connectedness.  Our suffering, our sadness, our despair are all connected to our joy, our peace and our contentment.  The place from which our sorrow flows also holds our joy.

Coming to the realization that we are not the center of the universe can bring about a fundamental sadness anytime.  Coming to the hollowness of lives lived without true connectedness at Christmas time can be too much to bear.  The children of La Manga reinforced that life is not about me. That any sorrow I felt had no place.  Their joy in the meager gifts we shared was the joy they gave to me.  But more than that they were simply happy to be there.  The love that Christmas is and the gift that giving love gives was the gift they gave to my growth journey.  Love is really the only gift that it makes sense to give this time of year.  The children know it.  And so did the child whose birth Christmas is meant to celebrate.  When we get there.  When the media blitz is focused on giving the gift of love, there would be a lot less poor children in the world.  And a lot fewer people in despair!

Posted December 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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3 responses to “Finding Christmas In Colombia

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  1. I enjoyed sharing your Christmas in Columbia. The true meaning is often lost in finding and getting gifts, cooking and eating too much food and forgetting about the struggles of others. We should all be there with you to help give small gifts to the children of La Manga! Happy New Year in Columbia!

  2. Thank you for a sensitive thoughtful reflection Wayne. I was especially struck by the very statement that in the US we blame the victim in order to preserve our right to accumulate even more. Operating out of delusion and denial is the addict’s way of preserving the freedom to feed their addiction. That is our collective sickness. Many of us have lost the capacity to find value in our lives in any way other than material.

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