My cheesy Christmas reflections on this beautiful mess

‘Cheesy’ in the urban dictionary means trying too hard. That which is unsubtle or inauthentic in its way of trying to elicit a certain response from a viewer, listener, reader, audience. Cliches are often cheesy because they are an obvious way of making a point.

What obvious point I want to make? That this world is a mess but it is a beautiful mess. We can despair over our stupidity, ignorance, gullibility, evil intentions, lies, violence, greed and even Christmas  festivities are not cheerful or glitzy enough to silence these thoughts or to put a nice shiny wrapping over it. The magnitude of struggles and suffering around the world is simply too big to be covered by “Happy Holiday’s” or “Season’s Greetings” or even “Our thoughts and prayers”.

Yes, we are a mess but we are also very special. This world is beautiful inside and out and Christmas is a  festival when we try to make it even more beautiful inside and out. And we get out the shiny wrapping for the visual effect. In the northern part of the world it is the darkest time of the year but we all know that it makes for the most exquisite light displays. We need darkness to appreciate the light; we need dark background to enjoy the illumination. Just like we need black skies to see the stars. Just like women wear a black dress to show off the whitest pearls or sparkly jewelry. Cliche but so true and we don’t mind. We are created for beauty.

What would be a Christmas tree in the summer?! It would look so fake and ‘inauthentic’ when all the other trees are adorned with their natural beauty – leaves, flowers. When everything is green, the evergreens do not look so green anymore. But at Christmas even a shabby tree can look festive and proud when decorated.

This Christmas Eve I took my grandmother to a traditional service at a nearby Lutheran church. I grew up near this church and was even baptized there but in my childhood memories it stood as big, old, cold and dark. I was sitting in the wooden pew this Sunday and new memories were created. The church was still big and old but it was not cold and it was not dark. It was filled with people (as expected on Christmas Eve) and our bodies helped to heat the place. It was filled with candles and lights and it made the atmosphere simply enchanting. Not to mention the focus of the evening – the Light of the world.

When we were walking toward the church before the evening service, my grandmother commented on the illuminated church tower which looked so majestic and inviting against the night skies. Her eyesight is starting to fail but it amazes me what details she catches. Anything that speaks of beauty and creativity. She always asks about the lights in the distance, she notices decorations in the shop windows and we stopped by a shop which had a disco ball. The ball was turning and it illuminated the sidewalk with what looked like snowflakes falling and twirling. My grandmother was simply mesmerized and I tried to remember the last time I enjoyed a disco ball so much.

Then we were both mesmerized in the church. I was probably making many of the older folks mad by taking sneak selfies with grandmother and looking around so much. Looking at the chandeliers, at the artful wood carvings, at the stained glass windows, at the altar painting and at the ceiling beams so high. I felt like a child again who is getting the scornful looks: “Has nobody taught you how to behave in a church?”

Well, this is exactly what I have learned about proper behavior in the church. Be like children who come with all their questions, their worries, fears, anxieties, hopes, expectations, dreams and longing for love and attention from God and people. Usually children call things for what they are. And Christmas celebrations are much more fun with children because children are never cheesy.




This one goes out to Brussels

So, this week I was away from the Internet for a few days and quite enjoyed it. No Donald Trump, no Apple and FBI, no crisis, no war, no bad news… actually no news. I was teaching in a remote place on Thailand – Myanmar border, surrounded by farms, villages and beautiful mountains. I enjoyed the sound of roosters, dogs barking and some of my new friends singing while they are taking a shower or working outside. All I had to worry about was making sure my mosquito net was fully tucked in at night.

Whenever I am away from the Internet for more than three days while traveling, my greatest fear is that someone in my family will get hurt or even die and I will find out much later. I make sure my relatives have our phone number in Thailand or wherever but they still prefer to contact me through social media. Little frustrating but this is how it goes.

Life is a mysterious thing with lots of irony. I left my peaceful surroundings to find out that indeed somebody has died. Not in my family but in many other families. People in Belgium and other countries have lost their loved ones because of a senseless act of violence. Even the families of the suicide bombers have lost their loved ones – these guys were somebody’s sons and brothers and cousins. Evil does not discriminate, it destroys everyone in its path. It has no preferred race, gender or religion.

Another irony was that during those days I was teaching about peace building and reconciliation. Even using Europe Union as an example of peace and stability and how in 2012 it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Of course, I told my students that Europeans are not perfect and there are many issues and challenges but we have come a long way from being a continent of constant wars and feuds.

I really did not want to hear such bad news. Not from Brussels or anywhere else. Not from Istanbul, not from Ankara, not from Baghdad, not from Paris, not from cities in Pakistan or Nigeria or Yemen. Each place where people experience this kind of evil, is traumatized and the scars remain. Life is not the same anymore…

Life is not the same for people in Belgium. It is not the same to go to the metro and to think that so many people did not reach the next station. Did not reach their job, their school, their family. It will not be the same to go back to Brussels airport and to think that the anticipation of travel and joy of having a vacation turned out to be ‘the wrong place at the wrong time.’

I am very sorry. Words fall short at such a time as this.

But I am also more than ever determined to continue to walk the road of peace. I do not mean being naive or singing “We are the world, we are the children” and proclaiming that some kind of positive thinking will take these evil things away. Evil is real and people make really evil choices. At the same time I will not join those who will find the fix-it-all solution in violence and declare “Nuke them all!”

Many have already written and many others will write articles and expert opinions about Belgium. There is plenty of blame to go around and people who are most affected will deal with their grief in many ways.

I don’t know if this was planned on Easter week or it was simply a chosen date. It does not matter. But it matters to me that Easter events from so long ago deal with exactly this kind of human experience. The Light came into the darkness and there was a moment when the darkness celebrated a victory. But its victory was short lived.

The Light is risen indeed. It is back with a universe-changing kind of force and the first words we –  the frightened, the bruised, the hopeless, the grieving – hear is “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you!”


Title photo from the Internet; this one is mine.


Tas nenotiek pārāk bieži, ka varu atpūsties no interneta, bet pagājušajā nedēļā tādas bija vairākas dienas. Nekāda Donalda Trampa, nekādu strīdu starp Apple un ASV drošības dienestiem, nekādu karu, nekādu sliktu ziņu… vienkārši nekādu ziņu. Man bija jāpasniedz lekcijas nomaļā ciematā netālu no Taizemes – Mjanmas robežas, kur apkārt ir tikai lauki, mazi miestiņi un džungļiem klāti kalni. Varēju klausīties vistu kladzināšanā, suņu rejās un manu draugu dziesmās, kamēr viņi strādā vai mazgājas. Vienīgais, par ko bija jāuztraucas vakaros, vai odu tīkls virs gultas ir kārtīgi noslēgts.

Pārbraucienu un darba laikā, kad neesmu tikusi pie interneta ilgāk kā trīs dienas, visvairāk uztraucos par to, ka kāds mans radinieks varētu ciest negadījumā vai pēkšņi nomirt, un es to uzzinātu krietni vēlāk. (Esmu bijusi līdzīgā situācijā.) Prombūtnē no Latvijas vienmēr iedodu radiem savu telefona numuru Taizemē vai kur citur, bet vienalga viņi parasti komunicē caur soctīkliem. Tas mazliet kaitina, bet ko padarīsi.

Dzīvē ir daudz noslēpumu un ironijas. Es atstāju savu ‘miera ostu’ pierobežā un, atgriežoties pilsētā, uzzināju, ka kāds tiešām ir miris. Tikai ne manā ģimenē. Cilvēki Beļģijā un citās valstīs ir zaudējuši savus mīļos caur briesmīgu vardarbību. Arī pašnāvnieku spridzinātāju ģimenes ir zaudējušas savējos mīļos – šie puiši bija kādam dēli, brāļi un brālēni. Ļaunums nav diskrimējošs; tas iznīcina visu savā ceļā. Tas nešķiro pēc rases, dzimuma vai reliģijas.

Visdziļākā ironija man personīgi bija tas, ka manas lekcijas bija veltītas miera celšanas un izlīguma tēmai. Es pat izmantoju Eiropas Savienību kā piemēru, un minēju 2012. gadā piešķirto Nobela Miera prēmiju  par miera un izlīguma, demokrātijas un cilvēktiesību veicināšanu Eiropā. Protams, es skaidroju studentiem, ka eiropieši nav perfekti, un mums ir daudz problēmu un izaicinājumu, bet mēs tomēr esam pielikuši daudz pūliņu, lai pārveidotu šo karojošo kontinentu par reģionu, kur valda miers.

Es tiešām negribēju dzirdēt šādas sliktas ziņas. Ne no Briseles, ne no citurienes. Ne no Stambulas, ne no Ankāras, ne no Bagdādes, ne no Parīzes, ne no pilsētām Pakistānā vai Nigērijā vai Jemenā. Katra vieta, kas piedzīvo šādu ļaunumu, ir dziļi traumēta, un šīs rētas paliek. Dzīve vairs nav tāda kā agrāk…

Dzīve Beļģijā ir mainījusies. Tagad, ejot uz metro staciju, tu iedomāsies par tiem, kuri nesasniedza savu nākamo pieturu. Kuri nesasniedza savu darbu, vai skolu, vai mājas. Braucot uz Briseles lidostu tu iedomāsies par tiem, kuriem ceļojuma prieka un brīvdienu baudas vietā bija tā nelaime atrasties “neīstajā vietā un neīstajā brīdī.”

Man patiešām ļoti žēl. Nav vārdu, kas to var līdz galam aprakstīt.

Bet man ir vēl viena reakcija. Šī traģēdija man palīdz vēl vairāk un skaidrāk apņemties turpināt savu darbu miera celšanas jomā. Es negribu, lai mēs būtu naivi, vai vienkārši, rokās sadevušies, dziedātu dziesmiņas, ka esam “pasaule un pasaules bērni”, vai sludinātu, ka pozitīvā domāšana palīdzēs atvairīt visus ļaunos uzbrukumus, vai arī par tiem nedomāt. Ļaunums ir reāls, un cilvēki izvēlas darīt ļaunas lietas. Tajā pašā laikā es nepievienošos otrai nometnei, kas atrod vienkāršu vardarbīgu risinājumu – uzspridzināt viņus visus!

Daudzi jau ir izteikušies, un vēl daudzi rakstīs savas domas un ekspertu atzinumus par Beļģiju, par Eiropu. Tiks meklēti vainīgie, tiks meklētas atbildes, un cilvēki, kuri cieta vistiešākajā veidā, izrādīs savas sēras dažādos veidos.

Es nezinu, vai šie uzbrukumi tika plānoti Lieldienu nedēļas laikā ar nolūku, vai arī tas bija vienkārši izdevīgs datums. Tam nav nozīmes. Bet nozīme ir patiesībai, ka vēsturiskie Lieldienu notikumi aprakstīja mūsu cilvēces pieredzi. Gaisma nāca tumsā, un bija brīdis Golgātas kalnā, kad tumsa svinēja uzvaru. Bet šī uzvara bija ļoti īsa.

Gaisma ir patiesi augšāmcēlusies. Tā atgriezās ar spēku, kas izmaina visu universu, un pirmie vārdi, ko mēs, nobijušies, sāpināti, cerību un ticību labā uzvarai zaudējuši un sērās, izdzirdam, ir “Nebaidieties! Miers ar jums!”