Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.
Bibi, the thirty something Humanitarian lawyer adjusted the straps on her backpack.
She did not like any more harsh bitterly cold Hungarian winters of her childhood.
These days she preferred mild December in Istanbul, where she lived with her Muslim husband and worked with Syrian refugees. Her mobile rang in her pocket and she quickly picked it up: “I am on my way father, just like every year I would not miss a midnight mass with you.”
Her elderly father chuckled in the phone: “Father Jonas expect you to sing ‘Ave Maria’ in his church choir so you better hurry not to miss the first practice in his church, Christmas eve is in a week time my dear you are late.”
She sighed and smiled into the phone: “I know father, did I miss one midnight mass with you?” She closed her eyes in a minute to see herself as five years old bundled in a pink coat her deceased mum made for her being carried in strong arms of her father through snow storm to their little church. She could see its littles window lit up in a distance and hear Christmas religious carols through night darkness welcoming them in.
She opened her eyes just in time to see their little church in front of her eyes surrounded by overspreading city buildings these days. The church was dark right now and she decided to knock on its heavy door on her way to the father’s flat when she noticed two huddling figures with a bundle in her arms next to a cold stone church pillar outside.
She kneeled next to the begging couple recognising them straight away as another Syrian refugees she was so used pick up from the street corners all around the world in her work these days. A hungry face of a man in her age with desperate dark eyes looked up at her and she scrambled for few euro coins in her pocket : “Why don’t you go inside father Jonas will surely help you out.”
A sad pale face of an young woman next to him shook her head talking in broken English: “We are on the way to Germany, I told him, we are Christians just need a shelter for our baby, but he chased us away.”
Bibi sighed: “Probably because it is lock down now in Europe you know, epidemics is bad.”
“Maria, show her our baby Jesus,” the man said quietly and the woman dressed in worn out long dress and oversized man’s coat outstretched the arms with a baby hidden in an old sheep woolly jumper: “He was just born few weeks back on the run, I was raped you see but my husband Jozef said name him Jesus, Christians will help us then.”
Bibi put down her backpack and opened it to take a flavoured milk carton and a juice bottle from the aeroplane: “Wait for me here, I go to talk to the priest, he is like father to me.”
She found very old and fragile father Jonas in front of the Bethlehem prop.
She watched him lovingly arranging little chipped figurines of baby Jesus and virgin Mary.
Mary remembered this same pre Christmas ritual of his from her early childhood. When he noticed her she disappeared in his bony arms: “My child, welcome home, I cannot wait to hear your sweet voice to sing our Ave Maria,” he greeted her in her native Hungarian but she pulled off talking quickly about the refugee couple shivering next to his church door.
“Bibi, they spread virus, they are not Christians like us, they should never come here.” He spread his arms in sudden anger: “God sees it all and understand, we have to protect ourselves from them.”
Bibi sighed looking at the figurines of baby Jesus in the arms of Mary with Jozef hovering lovingly above them and rushed out to see the real couple outside while father Jonas was shouting at her: “Where are you going Bibi, the choir practice starts in half hour?”
Bibi helped Maria to stand up and led them to her father’s flat. When she knocked on his door he peeped out frightened: “I don’t let them in, Bibi, take them away, they rob me and bring virus to my house.”
“Give me the keys from your van father,” she said suddenly sternly and he obediently unhooked the keys from the hook next to his door handing it to her while she kissed him quickly on his cheek: “They called me from the humanitarian headquarters I have to take medical supplies back to Turkey, I be back in two weeks.”
“Wait Bibi, aunty baked you lots of Christmas goodies,” he said feebly knowing his strong headed daughter and disappeared in his kitchen coming back quickly with plastic bags full of homemade food: “She just dropped it an hour ago I thought we go to see her tonight.”
“Will do after Christmas father, sorry, there is an emergency from work.” She grabbed the bags and her refugees’ couple obediently started to walk down the dark staircase back to the icy wind outside.
“Always the same with you, your humanitarian work, but what about our Christmas mass?”
“I am sorry father, I truly am.”
Before he could reply she rushed out of his flat.
On the way out of Budapest she stopped in her work headquarters depot.
A guard checked her details with a bored face: “I thought your colleague is coming in two weeks time as there was no car available.” She followed him toward a closed in garage full of boxes with medication and protective Covid-19 gears.
“The doctors working with refugees in Istanbul needed it urgently and I found the car so it would be me.” She said adamantly picking up the boxes he helped to load at the back of the van while her refugee couple was hiding at the back behind the curtain with a bed her father used when camping in Hungarian ‘pusta’.
Once the van was loaded she checked out on the mechanical door with her ID and sighed with relief. While driving she opened a little window in the plastic wall that separated her driving quarters from the back and shouted in English: “Are you comfortable, you have to stay quiet when crossing borders, I have a humanitarian ID so no one will bother us and no one suspect of you going back but we have to be careful.”
It took few days of driving and stopping only in remote areas of Romania and Bulgaria for the couple to stretch their legs and toilet breaks. She took little naps between while the couple was on watch out and kept herself going on endless take away coffee and coca cola cans.
When they reached Istanbul she ushered quickly into the Humanitarian headquarters where she was asked to quarantine for two weeks together with her saved couple that received medical attention.
She forgot all about the Christmas while attending to legal matters of desperate couples divided only by plastic sheets sheltering there in the time of Covid-19.
Suddenly her father rang and she quickly picked up.
“Listen to your Ave Maria, I am just on our midnight mass and your place is empty in the choir.”
Her father talked feebly over the singing voices.
Maria next to her stirred suddenly and spoke in English through her face mask: “I know that song from my church in Syria, used to be in a kids choir there.” Bibi smiled through her face mask and nodded at Maria: “Let us sing together ‘Ave Maria’ to my father then.”
And they did there and then singing into the mobile joining in with the voices of that far away Hungarian church. After she wished her father Merry Christmas she just sat there on her makeshift bed watching sleeping Maria with her baby Jesus in her arms and Jozef’s strong body protectively hovering above them even in his sleep.
“You missed Christmas Bibi,” her father suddenly sobbed into her mobile and she whispered back: “I didn’t father, I am with Jozef, Mary and baby Jesus right now.”
After the quarantine she led the refugee couple to the blue Mosque next to her flat where she lived with her husband. She knew she would find him there praying. When they took their shoes, washed their hands before entering big empty space with few worshippers Jozef went to talk to her husband upfront while she led Maria with Jesus to the back where few refugee women were sitting resting in safe distance between them.
“My husband is Muslim too,” Maria said suddenly: “He changed to Christianity because of me he thought it would be easier to enter Europe then.”
Bibi watched her husband and Jozef whispering to each other and smiled at Maria: “Ahmed will help him, my husband understands very well what it is to lose faith.”
When Jozef kneeled next to Ahmed he whispered quietly to his ear: “I have seen the worst of Islam in Syria and I have seen the worst of Christianity in Europe, I do not know anymore to what to believe in.”
Ahmed turned to wave to his wife Bibi at the back: “There is still something left to believe in Jozef.”
Jozef turned to him: “What is it?”
“Humanity,” Ahmed said simply.
Back in their small flat, Bibi emptied their bedroom so the refugee couple could settle in there.
They often offered shelter to homeless refugees over the years in their small flat.
“I promised you that I spend the Christmas with you once,” Ahmed said quietly lying next to Bibi: “And now you even missed it yourself, I am sorry.” Bibi looked up at Ahmed and squeezed his hand: “But I did not miss the Christmas Ahmed and we spend it together in your blue Mosque with real Joseph, Mary and their baby Jesus didn’t we?”
Ahmed smiled at her and closed his eyes peacefully next to her: “Yes we did and we have them with us even now.”
Ahmed opened his eyes in the first sound of the morning prayer when the dawn was just started to break and took his praying mat quietly not to wake up his wife next to him. After he opened his computer to translate Joseph’s message he asked him to send to the humanitarian headquarters as thank you for all the help. Once he translated it Ahmed looked at it and smiled to himself. This humble message of a displaced Joseph who lost his faith but kept going to keep his family alive stirred something in him, something bigger than any religion could. He hoped people working in their Istanbul humanitarian headquarters who were themselves of different religions and cultures and beliefs would understand what Joseph wanted to say. One can only hope …
Quiet Wisdom and Gratitude
For some this time is the festive season for others it is holiday time, for the rest it is the work as usual, whoever you are, wherever you live I send you my best wishes and for your senses to stay sharp all year around to hear the music of creation and the quiet wisdom in it and may your response be always the same 'I give thanks' onwards.
The extra artificial noise on our planet is so hard to lose only if you disappear in nature where natural order and harmony of things still rule you can leave the voices that become more strident and extreme with every passing year behind. Consumerism cries: "I want. I want!" Individualism cries: "Me! Me! My choice, my feelings!" Until you throw your iPhone or iPad away to distance yourself from that constant: "I,I,I".
Our society had become a cacophony of competing claims. The world gives every sign of falling apart. Even religion, some turns to this season have become a megaphone of hate. Many raise their own voices to scream over that constant I,I,I with We, We, We. We label things around us constantly as good or evil, true or false, absolutely certain about our labels but the moral relativism we use is just the scourge of our age or of our own individual beliefs.
Order provides antidotes to chaos and gives discipline to life. Keeping the order in place is an ideal way to achieve work-life balance. The shared traditions and history of people all around the world keep them tied to the same source of wisdom but often exclude strangers who are portrayed as intruders to your country, your region or your house.
As the all world religions taught us, pleasing everyone is impossible so you just learn to please your own small or big group of worshipers and exclude everyone else labelling them as your enemies.
We like to see ourselves as living in a new, modern and advanced age and still we segregate ourselves daily on the base of colour, tradition, religion, sex, money and power. There is still more to divide us than unite us. The role of women in societies is still discussed around the world and even in the most advanced countries hotly debated and often labelled as feminist nonsense just like the gay groups are still a sensitive topic of conversation for many.
And yet our role as humans on this planet is truly simple, every woman and man has a duty to care for others and thus to recreate the bonds that held society together. "I" had to give way to "we". Out of great crisis - climate change, coronavirus - that chance might come. Ideally open minded humans from all religions or non-religions, from every culture or place in the world could drive this change, with the world's faiths uniting, imams and gurus, priests and rabbis and non-practising religion people and atheists. If we could just be able to lift our blinkers and see beyond our own patch to realise there is a whole world out there and that world is US, it belongs to all of us and it depends on our unity to thrive not to wither.
We all depend on our shared morality, agreed norms of behaviour, mutual trust, altruism and a sense of "all-of-us-together." THE LIBERTY CRAVED BY 'ME' COULD BE SUSTAINED ONLY BY 'US'.
Us humans we make so much noise, we so much like to listen to our own voices but if much of the noise that humans made could be cancelled out, just like it is if you are lost in nature, we might more often hear what nature was saying to us...this festive I invite every one of you just to stop and listen to the silence...
Jozef, Maria and baby Jesus
Beata Stasak (author) from Western Australia on December 22, 2020:
Please share my fellow hubbers, share among others it is a Christmas story to be shared:)
Ann Carr from SW England on December 21, 2020:
Huge apologies, Beata, I've just realised that I confused you with Becky, so the paragraph ref Bill's hub doesn't apply to you personally! Never done that before, sorry. The rest of my comments stand of course. Great article - story and prose equally powerful.
Ann Carr from SW England on December 21, 2020:
This is a wonderful, powerful and timely message. I found myself nodding and my heart was reaching out as yours is. You have chosen a hard-hitting way of illustrating the way the human race is seemingly becoming harder, more materialistic and less loving. I believe that there are many kind and loving people in the world but all we hear about is the bad because it is deemed worthier as news, sensationalism. I wish there were more Mary, Joseph and Jesus stories, so that we could celebrate.
I hope many read this, really hear the message and respond.
I wish you joy and comfort this Christmas, with kindness from others. I have read your comment on Bill's hub and I was horrified at how you've been treated. You deserve to have much better treatment all round.
I am thinking of you and your beautiful story and hoping that we try better to make a difference.
I like the phrase 'listen to the silence'.
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 21, 2020:
I can hardly type through tears. Your story is so heart warming and true. We live as though we are the most important, our needs the upmost. God forgive us. Your story inspires me to do more. Thank you so much for writing this story.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 21, 2020:
What a beautiful message you shared with this story. I hope that many people read it.