Yesterday marked my first Christmas away from home, in a warm climate, and aboard a ship. Rough life, huh? In all sincerity, I wasn’t particularly excited to celebrate this year. Since I arrived on the Africa Mercy five weeks ago I have battled a severe case of “scrambled egg brain.” This self-diagnosis reflects the ever-changing emotions and tired, mushy state of mind I now possess. Anyway, Christmas:
At 0640 an abrupt alarm unkindly reminded me I had to work. After a mostly sleepless night, I rolled out of bed with a scowl on my heart.
I arrived on the ward and took report from the night shift nurse. As I planned out my shift I grew more and more annoyed. Every task and assessment felt unnecessary and too involved. I convinced myself that the job requirements today were too taxing because it was Christmas. I sat down anyway and created my schedule.
My co-workers and I soon discovered a slight problem. Three of the nursing staff wanted to eat brunch at 1130 but only two could attend. We had signed up for time slots with our friends. I planned to meet three close friends and eat our Christmas meal together.
Guess who drew the short straw.
In addition to the morning excitement, I’d get to eat my holiday meal alone. It was only 0737 and I was already fighting back tears. Every muscle in my body wanted to fight the injustice. I felt sorry for my poor self.
I’m away from home. I’m tired. I have to work on Christmas. I can’t eat brunch with my friends. I have to measure urine and clean vaginas and take care of a diabetic and convince a child to exercise and…
Thankfully, these depressing thoughts prompted me to take a break early. I walked to the cafe to collect a coffee and croissant. My already sad heart almost broke when I saw the length of the line. I didn’t have to check my watch to calculate I would not have enough time to even place an order.
I asked an acquaintance if I could jump ahead. Almost immediately I was at the front. My friend, Krystal (also the holiday barista), asked me what I wanted.
“Uh, something peppermint?” I muttered.
The man in line ahead of me turned to face me. I had met him before. The spunky Aussie was the principal of the school. He spoke.
“Oh, dont worry, yours is already being made then! There, set your mug down.”
“What?” Confusion contorted my face into a funny expression.
“My wife and I had another drink made to give away. It’s peppermint and coffee. You take it! It’s for you. On us. Merry Christmas!”
I smiled, thanked him, took the coffee and sat down at a nearby table. I knew the coffee was cheap, if not free today. Why was I so touched by his kindness?
I returned to work feeling slightly more grateful. I smiled at my patients. I provided better care. I began to see all the blessings that followed in the day.
This Christmas I am thankful for different things. I appreciate the British stranger who served as a delightful brunch companion. I am thankful for the fellow Midwesterner who stopped by the ward on her Christmas to bring me delicious coffee. For the first time in a month I tasted coffee so smooth that I could drink it black. I will never forget the sweet, motherly pharmacist who spoiled me with a back massage after I told her I missed my touchy family. I am thankful for the drizzly evening weather and a close friend who sang beneath the moon with me.
It’s amazing, you know, just how much simple kindness can change your perspective. Open your eyes. Reset your mind. The feeling that comes from knowing someone is taking care of you can gently force you to start thinking of someone other than yourself.
I think God’s love works in me quite the same way. After I have spent time praying and praising in whatever form (singing, writing, taking a quiet walk) my heart transforms, shifting my gaze. The Lord’s peace, grace, and mercy cleanse my mind. They remind me of my responsibility to look after others.
What would have happened without that peppermint coffee? Sure, things could have turned around. But it would have taken longer. My endangered spirit would have stayed tucked beneath self pity, lying to people, “I’m good. I’m okay.” All for the sake of preserving a stupid sorry-for-myself attitude.
I hope this resonates with you somehow. If not, learn from my mess. Do something kind for a stranger. Pause. Share a little love. You never know what could follow.
Left: the lovely Fifaliana, who rocked her exercises on Christmas
Right: two patients from our ortho program ambulate with candy cane assistive devices