The first month is over. How was the start of 2024 for you?
For the 1st newsletter of 2024, I'd like to share a personal story, reflective questions and some food for thought.
In December just passed, many of my friends returned to their home countries or vacationed with their loved ones. While I couldn't go home (because its on the other side of the earth) or go on vacation (because I was waiting for my scholarship), some friends stayed.
For New Year's Eve, a friend I had known for a few months invited me to a dinner party. I was nervous. Not because I would be spending New Year's (almost) all strangers, but because I had stopped drinking alcohol.
Dinner parties almost always have alcohol. Though I have nothing against drinking, I anticipated awkward moments, intrusive interrogation or social pressure.
When I first became vegetarian in 2009, before vegan and vegetarian cuisine was mainstream, I was teased and taunted for my lifestyle choice.
Some waved bacon in my face. Some suggested I'd have vegetable garnish on the side of meat dishes. Some debated and argued against my lifestyle choice as a means to reverse my choice. Mostly, people looked at me with pitiful eyes, as if my life was a misery.
I'm not the evangelical type. I didn't do anything to provoke this treatment, only to say, "I'm vegetarian." It took many years till it all stopped (mostly).
After I arrived, the host offered a drink, and I replied, "Sorry, I don't drink. I could do with juice or water."
What happened after surprised me.
No awkward looks. No social pressure, questioning, or debate.
Still, I remained cautious. Everyone was welcoming. We ate. We talked. We danced and played games.
Everyone brought a little bit of something for everyone. We had baked pears, hummus, crackers and cheese for starters, lasagna for mains, and my banana bread and ginjinha for dessert. Ginjinha is a sweet Portuguese liquor made of infused sour cherries in alcohol and is often served as a shot in a small chocolate cup.
As the host poured ginjinha in chocolate cups for a round of cheers, I felt myself melting into the background, retreating and pretending to be busy with some cleaning.
In a brief moment, the host turned to me and asked, "Would you like to join? We could use pomegranate juice instead. Would that do?"
My shoulders relaxed, and my heart filled with joy. This is what inclusion means. It doesn't need a big ceremony, a complicated process, or any extraneous effort.
Inclusion is a simple invitation with an open heart—a small act with big kindness.
We toasted with our tiny chocolate cups filled with ginjinha and pomegranate juice. For the rest of the night, we ate more, danced more, played more and cheered with the New Year crowd at the local viewpoint.
Questions for you
- What one small act with big kindness have you received recently?
- What one small act with big kindness will you give today?
Food for thought
Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, often emphasises mindfulness, compassion, and the interconnectedness of all beings.
The way you look at others, your smile, and your small acts of caring can create happiness. True happiness does not depend on wealth or fame.
I'd love to hear from you. Let me know how you are doing and what you'd like to see in future letters. Reply directly to this letter. Or leave a comment on my website.
Till the next time,