Kleshas and Tanhas

ethics morals faiths ideals

A Farewell to Service for Christmas Time

with 4 comments

My last day of service began like it always does with the infamous cloudy weather that seems to initiate all of my posts pertaining to my service learning experiences. Rain is pretty miserable to endure without proper rain gear like umbrellas and thick jackets. I’m constantly reminded this as our Ford Focus whips along West Hunting Park Avenue, passing more individuals on foot than in vehicles.

I’ve never had to make a Christmas tree before. I guess that says a lot about where I come from; the haves and the have-nots of the holidays. One of the sisters at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries asked us to assemble a six foot tree. Apologizing in advance, she forewarned us that we might be gnawing at each other by the end of this grueling process. Yikes. This wasn’t really my idea of easing into the preliminary Christmas spirit; up until then, all the coursework that my professors have been throwing my way have busied my schedule so that I could not sense any tinge of secular X-mas. (I’d say that’s a good thing from a faith standpoint!)

here we are after getting that tree together

The Christmas tree assembly brought out the worst of us as my service partners and I poked harmless  fun at each other’s ideas on how to mantle the tree with lights and decorations. A string of three year-olds passed by as we figured out which branches were the longest and were to be placed on the bottom of the rod. There were more ooh’s and aah’s from their mouths than you’d hear for that overdecorated house your family drives by every Christmas to marvel at its grandeur. The tree wasn’t even finished. You could see the ugly metal that the fake “fir” branches were stemming out from; it was hideous. Yet, I began to wonder how many of these kids had trees. For Thanksgiving, various community programs affiliated with MNM donated turkeys and other supplies for the parents of these children (and other age groups) to take home and serve as their feast. So I’ve got the vibe from this act of charity, as well as from the walks we’ve taken in the immediate area, that this community includes individuals who don’t have that financial excess to purchase a tree; real or fake. (And apparently, those fake one’s are price fairly high; it made me feel less guilty that I blurted out we had a real one every year back home.)

On our way home, we always find it difficult to meet everyone’s musical tastes. My service partner Earl has resorted to bringing his iPod. Graziella and I have agreed upon cheesy 80’s music that we can sing along with most of the time. After setting up the holiday decorations at MNM, what better genre to listen to than the Christmas stations? On immediately pulling out of Venago Street, we tuned into hear “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” It was drizzling at this point, and the only thing my mind would focus on was the stark contrast between the bright and cheery words of Bing Crosby and the darkness from our immediate surroundings; factors were the predominantly black neighborhood and rain. Similarly, as we sat in traffic on City Avenue,  Perry Como’s Home for the Holiday’s lyrics really spoke to me:

From Pennsylvania folks are trav’lin’ down
To Dixie’s sunny shore
From Atlantic to Pacific, gee,
The traffic is terrific!

I couldn’t help but think, “Hey! That’s me in PA, and I want to travel back home to Dixie. My oh my, what horrible traffic we are sitting in!” This song proved to be an excellent soundtrack for my self-absorption as I watched a disabled man in an electronic wheel chair traverse a puddle in the downpour.  We all saw, witnessed, and quickly looked away as we knew we couldn’t do anything to help his pathetic case even while our whole service learning class’ focus was an empathy-over-sympathy approach. That really put me in the Christmas spirit! And what fostered this lively mood came after a cement truck cut us off; a bumper ornament of a male’s genitalia dangled in front of us as Frank Sinatra sang Let It Snow.

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4 Responses

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  1. Interesting ending to this entry…..I like that you gave some thought to a basic tradition as buying a Christmas tree. Thanks for this unique perspective!

    Anonymous

    December 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    • I’ve been finding it hard to feel the secular Christmas spirit (if there ever is one) in Philadelphia!
      Thanks for the comment.

      Jack Viere

      December 8, 2011 at 12:13 am

  2. I could not imagine Christmas without a tree decorated and the lights glowing through the windows of the houses in my town. It is just something people take for granted, just like the presents that are placed below it from ‘Santa’. How do you explain to a child that Santa didn’t come this year, after the child was dreaming all night of a new toy?

    Jess

    December 8, 2011 at 12:00 am

    • I’ve definitely taken decorations for granted. I never thought of decorations as a measurement for wealth or social status.
      I was also wondering about the Santa issue; if you can’t put sufficient food on the table, how can Santa even be on the priority list?
      Thanks for the comment Jess!

      Jack Viere

      December 8, 2011 at 1:13 am


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