The year before I came to the US, I was working two jobs while attending University -- getting ready for class and keeping up with exams, then for job number one after getting back on the train, and going to job number two on weekends.
My days were optimized for sure.
Part of my income was contributing to living expenses -- rent with my mother, food, train tickets for school, and, if there was any left, books. Usually I traded my notes from class with other students who could not attend in exchange for borrowing the books I needed to prepare for exams.
A very small portion of my earnings was going into a fund for my trip to the US. Really, I was too busy to worry about barely scraping by, and we had fun with family and friends -- always. To me those gatherings for tea on a Saturday afternoon, or meetings at the park, were just perfectly good times.
That last official Christmas at home* though was hard, because I knew I was moving away.
In winter it is unusually cold and damp in my neck of the woods, apartments are drafty, and with our meager resources, we pulled together a small tree with lights and a nativity scene -- all very simple, to us it felt so festive.
I remember we had bought little gifts for each other, which we put under the tree for opening after the midnight Mass. They don't even have them anymore in the US. It was a family tradition for years when I lived in Italy. After the moments of community meditation, it was an even greater joy to share a hot cup of chocolate back home while unwrapping our little gifts.
To my surprise I had an additional small package under the tree. It was from a long time friend who managed to get it to my mother in time. It was a music cassette -- remember those? It kept me company from that instant and for years.
It reminded me that kind gestures don't need to be big to make an impact. It inspired me to be even more resilient in the face of doubt, often my own. It taught me to stay in touch with the people who have touched my life in some way, because I could never know when that connection would come to fruition. It delivered a very important message -- that having no expectations holds the most gratifying rewards.
* It took twenty years to have a Christmas with my whole family again.