Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 Surprise Gifts on a Sunday Afternoon

It began with a simple request from my sister in law: "Hey, Joanie, do you want to join us tomorrow singing Christmas carols at a party for the Ambassor of Kenya to the U.N.? Her neighbors go to our church and work with her, and she wants some singing at her party. We don't really know what to expect..but it will be fun to sing as a family."

The "all of us" meant my musical Patitucci family: my brother John, a bass player, his wife, Sachi, an amazing cellist, their musically gifted daughters, Gracie and Bella, my sister Renee, a professional singer, and her family, my sister Mare ( another talented singer) and her family and I, with 12 of us altogether singing. Since my sister, Renee is music director of their church, and John and Sachi are professional musicians, their friends invited them to sing. Even though I do love to sing, I must admit that I get a bit intimidated by my siblings' talent, though I couldn't miss the opportunity.  

Fast forward to the Sunday afternoon….

We arrived about 20 minutes early, pulling up to a beautiful house in a neighborhood in Scarsdale.  We sat outside around the corner, not wanting to arrive early and inconvenience anyone. We practiced a bit to be sure we all knew each song. This was going to be fun! I had no idea what an inspiring time it would be..

 Here are some of the serendipitous gifts of our afternoon:
  1. Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo was a wonderfully gracious host. Although my brother's friend Karen had given us a quick briefing about how to show respect by greeting her with the proper title, we were all a tad nervous.  Ambassador Ojiambo insisted that we eat before we sang: delicious Kenyan food. She personally took my niece's plate and gave her a sample of each special dish, explaining what each one was. We learned about white corn being a staple food and chapati, a delicious bread, as well.

  1. Not only did we get to sing carols for Kenyan Ambassador Ojiambo and her family and friends,  but  also for her friend: Ambassador to the U.N. from Nigeria, Joy Ogwu.  We were fortunate to talk with her after we sang; she is quite an inspiring woman: a leader among the female ambassadors to the U.N. as well as a member of the Security Council. She shared that she was about to lead some very important talks about arms this week, and felt so grateful to be at a party, relaxing and recharging for her busy week.

  1. As we sang, I felt overcome with joy. With my brother John next to me, and my sisters in front of me, we shared smiles and tried to hold back spontaneous giggles as we recalled the Christmas carol records of our younger days.  Sharing music with my brothers and sisters is something I miss so dearly, as we live across the country from each other.  After several encores, Ambassador Ojiambo thanked us; I whispered a message to my brother that we should thank her for the gift that she had given us in her invitation.  Tears welled up in all of our eyes as we shared our thanks with her.

  1. After being invited to stay at the party, and meeting many of the friends and family members of Ambassador Ojiambo, we sat by ourselves as they all disappeared upstairs to prepare a song for us. Little did we know that minutes later we would be singing and clapping along to songs from Kenya. They even made a percussion instrument out of the dome from the cake! It was a joyous time of sharing.

  1. As we said our goodbyes, I was touched by the grace and warmth of our host. Ambassador Ojiambo told us that the afternoon far exceeded her expectations. We had made her birthday/Christmas celebration memorable. We left, uplifted by our experience. What was to be an hour of caroling turned into an afternoon of music and sharing. Priceless memories for all of us!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas Letter I Won't Send

The Christmas Letter I Won’t Send ( but should?)

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope this holiday season finds you joyful and well, basking in the glow of a year of fond memories of time with loved ones, as well as of inspiring moments spent making a difference in this crazy world of ours.

I pray that your family is healthy. I know that many educators like me spend holidays fighting the myriad of germs that threaten to invade our bodies after being around germ-spreading little ones all day. Of course, you know that I wouldn’t trade “my kids” for anything.  Despite spending many Christmas eves coughing and sneezing my head off, I still sleep peacefully, knowing that I have lived out my passion by being with these kids each day, often caring more than some of the people who perhaps can’t, due to the daily struggles they face.

So back to that making a difference part. So often it seems as though we believe that it takes a grand act to "make a difference." Maybe you went on that one week mission with your church, posted hundreds of pictures on Facebook, as we all applauded your generous and courageous spirit. I probably even clicked “like” and added an honest, inspired comment.  Or maybe you sent in a donation to a local charity. Of course you can celebrate such a gift! I challenge myself, and all of us, to seize opportunities each and every day to share moments of kindness and generosity. You just never know when you may be giving someone exactly the words they need to "keep calm and carry on" in this very trying time. 

When those holiday bell ringers seek my spare change on a cold winter’s night, I smile and say that I am a teacher, who devotes myself and my change each and every day through the time, care and my own “change” I spend on supplementing my classroom to make learning joyful.  I give of myself all year round, 24 hours a day to this profession, as I spend nights dreaming of lesson ideas, ways to meet challenges with students, and worries about keeping my job.  I know thousands of other teachers who similarly give of themselves thanklessly each day.

At this time of year, as many of us send those “family lists of accomplishment” letters, cleverly designed to make us feel like our lives are worth a darn, my heart is peaceful, knowing that despite the many frustrations and barriers in my profession, I am doing exactly what I was meant to do. I hope that as you reflect on your year, you celebrate those gifts you share each day, and also that you are following the call in your heart. 

At this time of reflection and new beginnings, may you search your heart and check it twice. Are you on the path that brings you meaning and joy? How are YOU sharing your gifts with the world?