Monday, November 28, 2011

Ghosts of Holidays Past

One of my favorite movies in college was “A Muppet Christmas Carol.

As a former foster child, I could relate to Scrooge’s need to come to terms with Christmases of the Past, to find a place to belong in Christmas Present, and to summon up the courage to face Christmases of the Future.

I believe that this is a journey that continues for all of us…

I can still remember the 14-year-old girl I once was, living in an all-girls group home, and facing Christmas without family. My father was abusive and often absent. My mother’s death had left a void in my life that had yet to be filled.

To quote from my journal at the time: “Peering out from frost-covered glass, I feel a chill on my face as gusts of fresh wind bursts through the open window. It’s tough to face the fact that my own father chose not to visit me – that sharp sting of abandonment. My heart feels the bitter taste of winter’s emptiness. I squint my eyes to stare at the falling snow, noticing how each individual snowflake falls from the sky in its solitary travel; separate, isolated and alone.”

However as Albert Camus once pointed out:

Warmth insisted on making its way into my winter holidays -- particularly the Christmas when I was 16 years old…

The snow outside was white and pure, as I walked through the door of the main gathering area of the co-ed group home. The room was filled with a multitude of gifts, donated by members of a church somewhere in our county. Some of the packages had my name on them.

I opened up each of my presents, one by one, and stared at my brand-new blue jeans, white sneakers and assortment of colorful shirts. Whoever bought these clothes somehow knew my favorite colors: red, pink, turquoise and indigo-blue. Over the years, I’d grown accustomed to hand-me-down clothing; I typically borrowed clothes from my roommates or raided the charity boxes.

“Do they do this for us every year?” I asked my roommate incredulously.

“Yeah. They start saving up in January and put away money all year until the beginning of December. The group home sends them a list of things we need.”

I stared at the huddle of figures in the periphery of the room. The men wore work-worn overalls, embellished with holes. The women were equally without embellishment – no make-up, plain clothes.

“I hope they have enough money left for their own kids. It doesn’t look like they could afford to pay for all this stuff.” I commented.

A woman standing across the room caught my eye and smiled gently.

My roommate hissed in my ear. “Shut up, Lisa. They might hear you.”

“Okay, okay.” I stole another glance over at the strangers in the corner. Their selflessness astounded me. What did they do this? Why sacrifice for us? My own father didn’t send any Christmas presents to me.

As I exited the gathering that day, my arms filled with gifts I had received, the air outside was crisp and clean. My breath rose in a smoky haze. My new coat enveloped me, surrounding me with a feeling of warmth. For one brief moment, I felt cherished and secure.

That day, for me, was an integral experience in my life –one of many such seeds for the future that make me who I am today. Long after I had fought to build a future for myself and successfully established a marriage and family of my own, this snapshot from the past remained.

This particular experience helped me survive in that moment, and I am determined that its legacy will carry on…

This vision is at the heart of why Ohio foster care alumni take #ACTION to partner with our allies to host multiple Thanksgiving Events for foster care teens and young adults every year...

There are moments in our life when we have the opportunity to step outside of our comfort zone to make a difference. As we look back upon our lives, we can each remember those special people who went the extra mile in our lives – and how their actions continue to make each and every one of us who we are. As Scrooge discovered in the Muppet Christmas Carol: “It’s true, wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

We cannot save the entire world – but we can save some. We can and should continue to invest in our young people in and from foster care. We can offer them the gift of our love, encouragement, and empowerment. We can provide them with hope in this moment, and education regarding available resources that can help to pave the way for their future. Inasmuch as it depends on us, we can provide them with a “summer of the soul in December.”

We should expect nothing less from ourselves and one another.


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