At the family emergency shelter where I work, 25% of the families we serve are new immigrants to Canada. For many of those families, the past was filled with uncertainty, turmoil, fear of death by starvation, violence, or war.
On Friday night, along with my amazing friend Wendy C., I acted as Host for the monthly birthday party we hold for the children at the shelter. Thanks to the generosity of the Children’s Hospital Aid Society who cover the cost of the parties and volunteers who come in to put the party on, the event is a fun-filled hour and half of birthday party games, cake, and ice cream supplied by Fiasco Gelatto.
On Friday night, as I watched the guests and volunteers intermingle, play games, eat cake and laugh at the antics of a magician who came in to entertain them, I was struck by how much alike we are, in-spite of our differences in skin tone, height, colour of hair, faith, place of birth, and a host of other visible differences within the human form.
We are more alike than different.
We all want to celebrate the birth of our children. We all want to create happy memories for them. A world where they will grow up to be strong and free.
And, like parents the world over, we all like to remind our children to say please and thank you. To not make a mess. To ‘use our manners’.
We adults spend an inordinate amount of time talking about what makes us different than them. In some cases, we frame it in language of ‘better than’, more deserving, more entitled.
Yet, when we scratch beneath the surface of the human body, we are more alike than different. When we dig into what motivates us, what drives us in the world, we share so much in common. And, when we stretch beyond the circumstances of our birthplace, we find ourselves on the common ground of our sharing this human condition where ever we are, no matter where we go.
On Friday night, as I served up cake and passed out little tubs of ice cream, I wasn’t serving homeless children and their families. I was part of the joy and hope a child’s birthday brings into the world. I was part of creating a memory for children whose family circumstances have brought them to a place they wish, for so many reasons, they’d never had to visit, but while they are there, are determined to make as safe and caring and memorable for their children as they can.
It may not have been the perfect place, but for those mothers and fathers for whom the shelter is currently their safe respite, it was the place where their children will remember how much fun, laughter and cake they got to enjoy!
I witnessed humanity on Friday night. It had many skin tones. Many sizes. Many beliefs. And like humanity the world over, the thing that brought us all together was the celebration of a child’s birthday. In that celebration, hope burns eternal for all humankind.