I just spent an amazing holiday weekend with my family at my brothers beach house in Monarch Bay. We had a great holiday. My assignment for the Christmas weekend was to find a place that we could Christmas Carol and serve those in need. My sister-in-law rented the Laguna Trolley to take us caroling. It was on this night that I was to find a place to stop and serve, give to those that had less, those that needed something to help brighten their holidays. The first stop would be the fire house in Laguna Beach. Brixton and Sloane, the littles of the Smith clan would love this. Turns out so did the firefighters we met there. We sang a few songs and left them a treat. They took our picture and gave the littles hats and badges. They were touched that we would stop by and brighten their holiday.
The next stop was the Friendship House in Laguna Beach. It's a self sufficiency shelter for people living on the streets. They offer 32 beds, three meals a day and a way for the residents to save so they can get on their own two feet. We took bags and backpacks full of essential items for each of the residents. It was dinner time when we showed up. The third floor had a piano that my talented brother and nephew could play to entertain them. Some seemed happy to see us. Some were not so sure. Some came to join us and some went back to their rooms.
We introduced ourselves and told them we wanted to carol and share some music with them. It was a little awkward at first. The lady I had initially set it up with, wasn't there when we arrived. The staff was nice but not very good at rallying everyone together. We started with a few songs. In the beginning our family group was bigger than the residents. Alexander, my brother, played one song and then sang another song. Parker, my seventeen year old nephew played a piece he arranged himself. It was beautiful. A few more people joined us and some listened from afar.
My little niece Sloane, kept brushing past an older gentleman, because at two years old you can't sit still. The man had a bit of a tremor. I was concerned that Sloane might be bothering him but instead he reached for her hand and grasped it as she went by. Each time she went by he would touch her hand. He had a little smile on his face and a tear in his eye. My brother told me later that he had four daughters of his own. I felt sad for him that on this night this older gentleman was in this situation. Where were his daughters? Where were his people? What was his story?
Our father lives in Ecuador with his wife. He also has a bit of a tremor, and a bit of memory loss. He was not with us on this night either. He left our family more than twenty years ago. It was incredibly hard on all of us. As the years pass some things become easier but some of the pain remains. The holidays seem to be like a magnifying glass. All the hardships of life seem harder to bear over the holidays. People make choices and with their choices life can get more complicated and become harder.
It's almost easier to drop in at a homeless shelter over the holidays and spread some love, give some gifts and be on our way. Maybe it's the pain of the past that makes us build up walls to protect ourselves. In the building up of those walls we can lose the ability to have the same empathy for those that have hurt us, or those we have hurt in our own families.
I don't know the story of this older gentleman, but I'm sure a shelter wasn't in his plans for his life. I'm sure that if we met his four daughters we might understand a little better why he is sitting alone without family on this Christmas holiday. Maybe it's a good thing that strangers can give love to our loved ones when we aren't able to. Yet, wouldn't it be better if we could look on our own loved ones with new eyes, new hearts, and new compassion this new year. Accept them as they are today and forget all the things in the past that got us to these painful places to begin with.
If we can do it for a stranger why can't we do it for those we love the most? Healing pain is uncomfortable just like the awkwardness we felt when we first arrived at the shelter. If we can work past the discomfort and have empathy toward our own loved ones, maybe we can see them through fresh eyes like we had for this man in the shelter. I saw tears in most of my families eyes at one point or another that night. I saw tears in the eyes of some of the residents as well. By the time we left our hearts had all been touched. We all felt better. I surely don't have all the answers but I know in my heart that if we can do it for a stranger on the street we should be able to do it for our own family members. It isn't as easy for sure, but nothing ever is. What greater gift can we give our loved ones than a fresh start, a second chance, an opportunity to be seen through new eyes, that are more empathetic and loving.
As I start this new year , my goal is to look at my loved ones with new eyes. A year that isn't marked by the past. A year of letting go of past hurts and heartaches. Won't you join me.