Foolishly I took a moment from the joy of time with family and a restful day to glance over some news sites. A baby has just drowned in a pool, a Ngaruawahia family has had their presents stolen overnight, a woman has crashed her car through the front of her ex-partner's home, another family's house caught on fire, a teenager was shot in Auckland and a 4.0 quake in Canterbury. Merry Christmas New Zealand, this is apparently the state of the nation. While all of these things are tragic and newsworthy (well, most of them), there is another narrative weaving it's way through the Christmas season which I think deserves a moment.
This year The Auckland City Mission provided over 11,000 food parcels to hungry New Zealand families. 3,000 of those are being provided in the Christmas season alongside 7,000 presents to children who would otherwise miss out. Despite the media's general negativity about 'bludging', they will also host a Christmas dinner today which will feed over 2,000 hungry people. The part of this that excites me the most isn't the food, but the fact that hundreds or thousands of lonely and isolated people may today sit down and have a rare conversation with someone over the common-ground of a dinner table. A brief reprieve from living hard on the streets or trying provide for a family on low-income, what could be better than a full stomach and some kind words?
Alongside these big scale initiatives like that of The Mission there are also many New Zealanders choosing to enlarge their dinner tables to those in need. Today Matt Grey, the Manager of Zeal Youth Centre in Henderson opened the doors of their youth centre at midday to invite young people who are living rough or don't have stable families to enjoy Christmas with - it may only be a few, but it will matter greatly to those who come.
The table is a powerful metaphor. The universal needs for sustenance and social connectedness don't discriminate across class, race, gender, creed or belief. In my case I am lucky to have come from a stable family who don't have to negotiate broken marriages or sibling disputes, I realise this is not the case for many. But for those of us who are lucky enough to gather at a table with a family (whether biological or reconstructed) we must stop, look around, and realise that what we have is unusual, special, and the longing of so many. When we are fortunate enough to share this connection with others we have the opportunity to close the table, or to open it wider to a hurting world. The stories our media tells today are a narrative of fear that makes us want to lock the front door and close down the table. Hold tight to your loved ones, guard your possessions, trust no one, time is running out!
Thanks goodness that there is counter-narrative to this fear. Despite what the media would like us to believe, many New Zealanders today are opening their hearts and their tables to their friends, their neighbours and their strangers. That's a reason to be hopeful.