Christmas with the orphans. Sounds quite Dickensian. And not just ‘regular’ orphans but ones with HIV and no possibility of adoption. Children far from the world at large. Kept at bay and removed from our everyday routines and preoccupations. We were going to be with them on this holiday. Like sainted do-gooders, giving up the commercialism of the day and embracing the true meaning of Christmas. How remarkable and kind said some when they learned of our plans.
Remarkable and kind? Really? Who were we kidding? There is nothing sainted or altruistic about our decision to go to Mukta Jeevan on December 25. In fact, this is a gift to ourselves. I honestly cannot think of any place else I’d rather be.
Free of the typical overload of festivities and obligations, our ‘escape’ to Mukta Jeevan is a retreat of sorts. We can retreat from the superficial and immerse ourselves in the moment. In the presence of those who have no ulterior motive, it is a chance to shed the pressures of our world and wash away the fatigue that our modern lives impose. In this world away from worlds, things like looks, credentials, wealth, jobs, possessions, connections etc., do not matter one bit. One is accepted as is and nothing is expected.
As anticipated, Sister Barbara and the other nuns give us a welcome that makes me feel as though I am a most valued member of the family. I realize, I am the one with expectations – I need their generous attention and affection. With open arms I’m received just as I am. I am not seen lacking in anything nor am I made too much of. Authenticity is in abundance here. How utterly, deliciously refreshing. A reminder to carry this same honesty wherever I go.
After a quick breakfast and exchange of news,we give Sr. B the vast amount of school supplies collected by young Brady Egan. For her eighth birthday, in lieau of presents for herself, this little girl had asked everybody to bring school supplies for the children of Mukta Jeevan. Restores ones faith in the future right? We delivered three large suitcases of supplies. Sister is astounded and delighted. I feel like Santa Claus. When I present the box of seed packets that had been given to me by Pat of Rosedale Nursery in Thornwood, NY, she is positively ecstatic. Such simple things bringing so much joy.
I also give Sister something very important to Mira, Murali and me. In memory of my beloved mother who passed away this past May, I present her with a check for Rs. 60,000 or $ 1000 which was donated by several dear friends in the United States. This is for her to set up a music program for the children. She will arrange for a teacher to come and teach music on a weekly basis. I give her my assurance that this sum will be forthcoming annually. Funds for music are short and often seen as superfluous. But, I know first hand what early exposure to music can mean to a child. With this program, I hope to pay it forward. I have no doubt that the children will benefit from music lessons. If even one of them at Mukta Jeevan discovers a lifelong passion for music, the generosity of friends and my own efforts would’ve been worthwhile. Sister tells me she has a good idea which music teacher to bring in from Mumbai. I look forward to updates on the program.
Then it is time for what I’ve been looking forward to all along. Seeing the children again. Dressed in their finest in honor of the holy day, they shine bright and happy. I am thrilled to see how many have grown taller, some have filled out nicely and the oldest ones look quite the young ladies they now are. Sr B informs me that of the twelve boys, the older ones have now been shifted to a boys only ‘home’ in Mumbai where they can pursue their studies. I understand that this is for their own good but still, I genuinely miss seeing those absent faces. David, Hari Om, … I silently send them my love and a wish for all things good in the future. They will forever be in my heart.
For the rest of the morning we hang out with the children. Just us three and them. No nuns or anybody else. Nice. We watch them play some games including Charades where Murali entertains all of us with his acting/gesturing, we converse a bit, share the sweet treats we’d brought and then Mira shows them how to make origami cranes. While she demonstrates, Murali interprets in Hindi so the children can follow along. I take videos and photos. The children adore having themselves photographed and keep making requests. I am all too happy to oblige – between my visits, back at home, I am given to frequently poring over their photos. Never fails to lift my spirits and put my life in perspective.
Being with these children is a delight. They, like their caregivers, do not have any hidden agenda in making us welcome. They are not looking for gifts of any kind. That we are there for them is enough. Here too, I have no need to think about being anything other than myself. I take pleasure in observing how they look up to Mira who they call “Didi” – older sister. Mira, on her part is a bit unsure. She is at ease in so much that she is happy to be with them and show them how to do things be it paper cranes or playing the recorder. However, not knowing Hindi, she is unable to communicate with them directly and therefore not quite certain about how she comes across and how to be what they see her to be. I personally think she is doing just fine and is over-thinking things.
The morning passes quickly. We have a rainbow of cranes, photos galore, renewed connections and the sounds of the children’s laughter filling our heads. It is time for lunch. The children must also get to rest. In their colorful clothes and gaiety, it is easy to forget that they are in need of regular medication and health oversight. So we say our goodbyes and head back to the building that houses Sr. B’s office and the nuns living quarters.
Over a very special Christmas lunch, we chat, laugh and indulge in the camaraderie typically found in loving families. Perfect.
It is mid-afternoon when we finally leave. I am so content. I got everything I wanted for Christmas. Love, laughter and a renewed sense of purpose.
Enjoy the slide show and videos:
(c) 2013 Shobha Vanchiswar