During the holiday season in the United States, most of us are running around feeling a little crazy as we try to do everything for everybody to make this year the perfect holiday. Yesterday I experienced the perfect holiday. Yesterday our gift team visited Holt’s Ilsan Town, a hillside community located about 45 minutes NW of Seoul. This community was built by Harry Holt and currently houses approximately 300 mentally and physically handicapped children and adults. These people live at Ilsan in residential homes with housemothers, not in care facilities with a rotating staff. At Ilsan each person is a member of the family; each person does what she can, according to her abilities, to help as part of the family. At Ilsan, each person’s talents are drawn out and encouraged. Our visit is part of the residents’ main Christmas festivities. Yesterday was their Christmas. We delivered a Santa bag full of gifts to each home, one simple gift for each person, and then we participated in the annual Christmas party held in the gymnasium.
We were running late, so when we walked into the gymnasium the residents were already there, gathered around their family tables, Christmas music blaring from the speaker system. Housemothers, staff and dozens of volunteers milled around helping to ensure that each person was able to enjoy the party food. Volunteers maneuvered wheelchairs, helped with feeding those not able to feed themselves and provided additional company around the tables. As we entered the gymnasium, the level of excitement increased dramatically. The men at a table near me were so excited by our arrival that many were actually bouncing up and down on their stools. As I looked around the room, people would catch my eye, smile and wave enthusiastically.
Later, after the official party was over, we all prepared for a group picture: wheelchairs in front of the stage, the rest of us behind the wheelchairs or up on the stage. As I maneuvered around to get in place for the picture, random hands would reach out to touch me; people would try to get my attention, to smile at me, hug me, sometimes even to kiss me on the cheek. I realized that, in anticipation of this trip, I had been hungering for this moment, hungering to be part of this excitement, this love, this joy. I, who had helped supply the simple gifts distributed earlier, had just received the greatest gift – the gift of pure Christmas joy.