Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'll be home for Christmas

I was almost home tonight after work when I was broadsided by Christmas cheer. Maybe it was hearing "I'll be Home For Christmas" on the radio. I started running through scenes from Christmases past in my mind. There is sweetness in those memories, mixed with a little melancholy here and there. It wouldn't be me without a touch of melancholy.

I spent one Christmas in Belarus. Actually, it was Orthodox Christmas, celebrated a few days after our family had celebrated here in the USA. I had flown to Minsk to oversee a distribution of Christmas toys from donors who had contributed for the children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. The strongest memory from the visit was Christmas Eve. Four of us Americans had gathered at the home of a Belarussian coworker. Together with his family we toasted the coming new year, ate from platters of heavily salted food, and talked about the troubles of the world as only good Russians can.

As it neared midnight we pulled on our coats, boots, hats and scarves and walked arm in arm to the nearby Orthodox Church. The only sound in the still, silent night was the crunching snow under our boots. People came from every direction in pairs and small groups, walking without talking. The church was warm and smelled like beeswax candles. We each took one and lit it before saying a prayer and placing the spindly candle in the sand-filled container in front of one of the decorated altars.

To me the best thing about the Russian Orthodox Church is the music. Well, and the pageantry. Coming from a Nazarene heritage of simple, unadorned churches, the pageantry is fascinating. I don't remember much after covering my head, entering the church, lighting a candle and saying a prayer. I'm sure the church was filled to capacity in this country where you once risked your life to worship openly. I know it was warm and peaceful and the music was, mmm, heavenly. That's the only way I can describe it, even though it's cliche.

Maybe it was the contrast that makes that memory so clear. I had spent the preceding week visiting children in hospitals who were suffering from various types of cancer as a result of their exposure to radiation from Chernobyl. Some were lively and just starting to lose their hair. Some wore masks to keep away deadly germs, and some were still and almost lifeless, near death. Their mothers and fathers hovered and there was nothing we could say to them. Maybe it was that experience that illuminated that Christmas Eve.


Stephen said...

You've had some pretty interesting experiences, huh?

Cari said...

Yep. I forget sometimes just how crazy my life has been up to this point. Crazy in a good way mostly.