As 2023 draws to a close, I, for one, won’t be sad to see the back of it. I’m feeling a little detached from reality. Skimming through the headlines, my media feed has nothing but bad news. The world seems to be spiralling out of control. War. Famine. Natural disasters. There’s no end to the misery.
My heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are fleeing war and poverty in an attempt to make a better life elsewhere.
It goes out to Jewish people around the world as they relive the horrors of the past.
It goes out to the innocents in Gaza who had no hand, act, or part in electing Hamas yet are suffering the dire consequences of their rule and the heinous attack on 7 October.
It goes out to Israelis – both Arab and Jewish; I can’t begin to imagine a world where my neighbours wanted me dead.
It goes out to Ukraine, which faces yet another Christmas without an end to that war in sight, and to ordinary Russians who are also bearing the brunt of decisions made on their behalf.
It goes out to the people of Myanmar whose plight, although largely forgotten by the media, is as bad as ever.
It goes out to everyone, everywhere, who is struggling to put food on the table, heat their home, or pay the crippling costs of healthcare.
It goes out to all who have suffered from senseless violence.
So much of my heart has gone out it feels like there is very little left.
I feel empty.
With every national election, I watch with mounting despair at those elected around the world and the ensuing tit-for-tat politics.
I fear the growing right-leaning of voters.
I fear the traction that intolerance, hate, and bigotry are gaining in society.
I fear the loss of innocence, of spirit, and of hope.
I’m sickened by the polarisation, the readiness of people to dig in their heels and stop listening, to bully and browbeat those whose opinions differ from theirs.
I’m at a loss to understand a generation that simultaneously proclaims to be inclusive and non-discriminatory and yet is so intolerant of those who dare to not conform to their non-conformity.
I’m sick of the lies, the corruption, the propaganda, of not knowing who or what to believe.
I feel powerless.
Empty. Powerless. But not bitter. Not yet, despite the Ancient Hebrew meaning of my name, Mary.
My given name is Mary Martha. I wasn’t named after Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, although I am both a doer and a dreamer. I was called Mary after my dad’s mam, who presumably was called Mary after her mam. That there are four of us cousins with the same first name shows how entrenched the naming tradition is on that side of the family. The Martha is a much longer story.
When it comes to my name day in Hungary, I get to choose from 15 August (Feast of the Assumption) or 8 September (Nativity of Our Lady). I’m still deciding.
Earlier this year I worked on the English translation of a beautiful book – Mary, Mother of God. It’s a biography of Our Lady by the Polish duo Grzegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon. She’s been on my mind a lot. With the growing anti-migrant sentiment in Europe, echoes of ‘no room at the inn’ ring out. I remembered finding an account of a dream she may have had in a church last year. I’ve dug it out to share with you now.
I had a dream, Joseph. I don’t understand it, but I think it was about a birthday celebration for our son. The people in my dream had been preparing for about six weeks. They had decorated the house and bought new clothes. They’d gone shopping many times and bought many elaborate gifts. It was peculiar, though, because the presents weren’t for our son. They wrapped them in beautiful paper and stacked them under a tree. Yes, a tree, Joseph, right inside their homes! They’d decorated the tree with sparkling ornaments. There was a figure like an angel on the top of the tree. Everyone was laughing and happy. They gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our son. I don’t think they even knew him. They never mentioned his name. I had the strangest feeling that, if our Jesus had gone to this celebration he would have been intruding. How sad for someone not to be wanted at his own birthday party! I’m glad it was only a dream. How terrible Joseph if it had been real!
I’m not complaining about the hijacking of Christmas. The more the merrier, I say. And each to their own. Yet I find the pressure to do, to buy, to be happy a little too much.
To make myself feel better, I give.
I give to those who are making a difference in ways I cannot: NANE, who supports those who have experienced or are experiencing intimate partner violence; Utcáról, who are working to house the homeless; Kiútprogram, who are helping people out of institutionalised poverty by growing gherkins; TaMi, who are creating a brighter future for children in the poorest of Hungarian villages; and Ételt az életért (Food for Life) who feed those who don’t have the wherewithal to feed themselves. For many, the choice between eating or heating is all too real.
As does gratitude.
As does not taking even the smallest of things for granted. Like a smile. A kind word. A good deed.
If you’re reading this, as the big day approaches, whether you’re sitting down to Christmas dinner and all the trimmings or a simple bowl of soup, my wish for you is that you are where you want to be, with those you want to be with. Here’s hoping that 2024 will be a better one all around.
Boldog Karácsonyt. Nollaig shona daoibh. Happy Christmas.
First published in the Budapest Times 17 December 2023