Well here it is another year of my life up for grabs, more excitement, new discoveries, conversations with strangers and masses to learn about blogging, tweeting and all things connected to life the radio and journalism.
I ended last year purposefully deciding to do what I wanted, not to meet anyone else’s expectations and not to feel guilty about disappointing family and friends. I laid the groundwork where my sons are concerned and persuaded their Dad to invite them for christmas with their girlfriends and friends. My ex-husband was thrilled and then all I had to do was tell my sons. Their first reaction was confusion, “are you off on one Mum?” asked son number one, whilst son two demanded to know why christmas was cancelled. I carefully covered the slight deception on my part by re-stating how thrilled their Dad was, how much he was looking forward to it, had begun organising things already. Finally the penny dropped and they asked what I was going to do. “I’m going to volunteer with the homeless.” Well anyone would think I’d declared a revolution or something, “what!”, demanded son two, “you mean you would rather spend christmas with junkies and alcoholics than us?”. Meanwhile son two was digesting the news in a much more pragmatic fashion. ” I think its a great idea Mum, if thats what you want to do”. Son two took every opportunity over the next ten days to dig at me, including asking he would feel if I died soon and hadn’t spent my last christmas with my family. At this I laughed out loud and wondered if my dying thoughts ought to include regretting not spending christmas with my sons and the answer is am emphatic no. If I ever get those last gasping words on my deathbed, like they do in the movies I just want to be able to say that I lived and loved to the last.
Christmas day dawned and I struggled to persuade my sons out of bed to open presents before my departure and before I knew it I had hugged, kissed and left them both to a new kind of day. Mine began by collecting some elderly people and delivering them to the centre and then meeting and greeting a mixture of those from various walks of life. The other volunteers were lovely and mingled and chatted to the guests with warmth and gentleness, no judgements, just christmas lunch. An army of volunteers in the kitchen wrestled with mounds of brussel sprouts in cavernous vats and enough turkey to feed an army of 120 whilst the rest of us began to show people to their tables. I sat with 6 guests on my table and chatted about the anything but the reason why they were here and yet bit by bit they each volunteered their stories. One lady had no relatives and her son had died 4 years previously and as she showed me the bracelet he had given her the tears welled up in her eyes and I felt myself choking back the tears too. Another of my guests was a young woman who declared that she wished she could find a way to stop drinking and start living and her declaration was met with similar tales from the men on either side of her. One said that as he couldn’t read he’d found it difficult to do many things. Each of my guests thoroughly enjoyed their meal and the company and the band playing carols and all I could think was that I also might have had a life like this if circumstances had been different. I felt truly humbled by the fact that these guests had shared something of themselves with me and expected nothing in return.
Whilst games were being played I snuck off to the kitchen and immersed myself in the sheer graft of washing hundreds of plates. My thoughts were occasionally interrupted by some of the guests appearing at the hatch to say thank you only to be offered a sandwich to take home and a small gift. Yes there were one or two more difficult moments when those dependent on drugs or alcohol wanted something more and yet they were firmly and gently guided back to their seats.
At the end of the day we were all thanked as volunteers and applauded by the guests but my thanks goes wholeheartedly to them. It was my privilege to have spent a small amount of my time in their company, to have gleaned a small insight into their world and to have contributed something. Christmas for me this year was not dominated by the ordeal of the consumerism that seems to grip us all so frantically. My gifts to friends and family were inexpensive homemade items and somehow it really was more meaningful. As for christmas 2012 I can’t imagine not doing exactly the same thing again and who knows maybe my sons may join me this year?