REFLECTIONS OF A SHOPKEEPER - Welcoming the Stranger - 21 December 2020

Posted by Louise Humpington on

Last week I had an uncharacteristic moment of despondency. Possibly triggered by being insanely busy on top of family life and the sleep deprivation that goes along with a ten month old who is choosing to spend most nights feeding rather than sleeping. All fairly standard stuff.
For the first time in I don't know how long I cried. Not just a little sniffle. Real tears. Those great fat ones which roll down your face like the rain in a tropical storm, and literally make puddles in your lap. The type of proper ugly crying that leaves you looking like you need an appointment with an infectious diseases clinic.
I wasn't feeling sad for me or overwhelmed by my task load (although my resilience is probably lower than usual). It was triggered by listening to thought for the day on radio four. You can listen to it here.
Now we are not religious at all. In fact I would probably describe us as actively atheist. But the words of Rev Marie-Elisa Bragg really struck me.
The piece revolved around the idea of setting a place for a stranger at Christmas time, and the strangeness of literally not being able to have a stranger in our homes this year. The idea behind welcoming that stranger is, for me, the epitome of the reciprocity that we strive for at this time of year (whether or not you are religious). The family offering shelter, company and food. The stranger offering stories of their travels and with it so much more: a broadening of horizons, a revised perspective and a change to our view of the world. And so the idea of that stranger being alone (in spite of all the ways that I know our wonderful community has pulled together to support people), just filled me with an aching sadness. Since the recent announcements even more so.
She referenced so many of the movements which mean so much to us and for which we are campaigners: climate justice, Black lives matter, human rights, intersectional environmentalism.
She spoke of the renewed sense of voice and hope for a better world that those voices have not just called for but demanded this year. And yet it left me feeling despondent. Sad that we are still having to have these conversations in times where we have made so many advances in other areas. Frustrated that ignorance and lies around these issues are allowed to go unchecked on social media, and worse, that they are amplified by the algorithms which reward interaction (whether that is positive or negative). Angry that what I see as the fundamental tenets of being a decent human being, and giving half a toss about not destroying what we have, whilst leaving something positive behind for future generations, are apparently still controversial in some quarters. It made me feel despondent, and for the first time in a long time a bit jaded.
But those cathartic tears were needed. It felt like a release of probably lots of feelings that have been building up for months. And as my sobs subsided I started to feel some hope. When I get myself into an emotional state like this (rare) I revert back to rationalism and logic. So I took myself back to my professional training. Firstly as a lawyer and secondly in International Development. And the first step in recalibration for me was a recognition that although the kind of change that we need for, and in, our world right now seems insurmountable, the fact that people are shouting about it is hugely positive. If they didn't care enough to get riled about it whichever side of the argument that they fall on, we wouldn't stand a chance. The fact that these things are pervasively filling our news feeds and conversations is positive. People make change. It doesn't happen without them. So if like me you are drawing to the end of the terrible twosome twenties (as I'm now dubbing 2020) feeling a bit despondent, have hope. Absolutely reflect on this period but gain strength and hope from the fact that there is so much more we can do to be those change makers, especially now.
After the recent announcements there are lots of people who will be feeling devastated that the little glimmer of normal and the chance to see and hug loved ones has been ripped from them. If you now have a pile of food and fewer people to share with why not reach out to that lady down the street who always spends Christmas alone anyway and ask if she'd like you to pop a meal in? Why not ask the single parent or family who have lost an income whether you can make pudding for them? Why not drop that extra box of biscuits you bought to share with the family into the man who is a full time carer for his wife? Welcome that stranger in a different way. Open yourself to hearing the perspective of another. Be a change maker.
Whatever you are doing over the next few weeks take time for yourself and take care. Have a wonderful Solstice - the days are now getting lighter. Huzzah! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Peaceful Yuletide and Sabbat, Joyful Celebrations Guru Gobind Singh, Namaste Makar Sankranti. 💚

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