A Season of Giving, A Year of Receiving
I haven’t written much since I returned to the States, as you might have noticed. I have started so many drafts, attempted in so many words to synthesize my experience or consolidate my thoughts into one coherent blog post, even a series if necessary. But it’s proving to be difficult – there are so many subtle things I’ve learnt and observed that to document them all would either bore you or overwhelm me. So, at the risk of sounding defeatist, I didn’t know if I could do it.
But suddenly, on this Christmas day (which I don’t celebrate, but still acknowledge), I was compelled by an urge to produce something, to actually start and finish a work without concerning myself with its grammatical correctness or its perfect nuanced message. Why has today, a day that more or less means nothing to me, pushed me to write again, when the Mayan New Year (something that actually resonated quite deeply with me) or the Connecticut shootings or especially my sneaky return to the States failed to overcome my writer’s block?
It comes down to a simple dichotomy.
Christmas is touted as the holiday of giving – presents and presence are the critical elements of the Christmas spirit, as is the cozy camaraderie of gathering everyone together around an aromatic symbol of our generous nature. Revelers pride themselves on their gallantry and their charity, their consideration and kindness and their ability to tuck their disagreements away, if only for one day. In that way, it’s the perfect holiday to juxtapose my thoughts as of late.
Why? Because if there’s anything I learned from traveling around for three and a half months, and planning an extremely low-budget trip for the next nine months, it’s that I have received so much more than I have given.
Or maybe it’s karma. I regard myself a reasonably giving person, the type who makes hand-drawn birthday cards and elaborate surprises, who seeks joy from making others laugh or feel comfortable. But then I traveled around the States and Europe for nearly four months, and I realized that there is so much more that I could do. Get this: I spent a total of $50 on accommodation for the entire trip. Even those $50 were a reduced sum of what might have been double or triple that – but thanks to the generosity and kindness of the only hostel I stayed in all throughout Europe, I was offered a deal that only friends receive. In fact, I became friends with everyone who worked there, making the sole deviation from my couchsurfing ways a completely worthwhile experience.
Everywhere else, I stayed with friends. And yes, I use that term to cover CouchSurfers as well – casting aside the obvious creeps that CouchSurfing attracts, I stayed with three wonderful women who showed me care and compassion beyond my uneducated expectations. And of the thirty-some friends I stayed with, every single one was phenomenal. Some took it upon themselves to show me around their cities; others were busy, but lent me keys and beds and everything I needed to feel just at home. Some were friends of friends, some distant acquaintances who grew closer, some who occupy the innermost circle of my heart. But if someone else were observing their hospitality, it would be hard to tell who knew me better, who cared more. Everyone was so incredibly giving, offering me everything from a place to stay to warm home-cooked meals to socks and boots when it was cold and rainy.
I can write more in depth about this later, but I just wanted to say something now: I was incredibly touched by the unconditional outpouring of love and compassion that I received while traveling these past few months. I can’t do justice to the hospitality that seems so effortless to these lovely people I call my friends, but I can try to repay it. I can pay it forward. And I’m going to try, with every fiber of my being, to embody the generosity and selfless giving that I was so lucky to experience.
If there were any significant change I could observe from my trip, it was the gradual realization that people are always there when you need them; you just have to ask. Whether you return the favor immediately or sometime down the road, or even do something kind for someone else as a way of expressing your earlier gratitude, the universe has a quirky little way of making everything fall into balance.
Maybe it’s my life that’s falling into balance, or maybe I’m just more observant of this universal truth. But understanding that, embodying that nature, and striving to live my life in a way that would make me as exemplary to others as these people have been to me… well, isn’t that a Christmas miracle?