Upon our (at times emotional) distribution of the gifts, Galina asked our traveling group to gather in the library for a quick 5-10 minute discussion. Well, knowing and loving Galina as much as we do, we knew (a) she had something special and dramatic up her sleeves and (b) it wasn’t going to take 5-10 minutes.
As we entered the library, we found Galina, Vera (headmaster of the school), Ludmilla (headmaster of the dorm) and Elvina (librarian) gathered around the table with three candles in a candelabrum. We all – interpreters and travelers alike – took a seat around them and the ceremony started.
As you remember, Galina had named our evening time with the kids “Lights of Friendship.” Tonight, she gathered some weary pilgrims for our own time of Lights of Friendship. In her motherly and compassionate way, Galina waxed eloquently about our friendship, the love of God, the impact our relationship is having on the kids and staff and her appreciation of our love and support of them. She was passionate, poetic and charismatic. (“Da Da,” as Galina would say!)
But what I remember about the event was less the translation of the words and more the joy and laughter that permeated the room. We laughed and laughed and laughed. The laughter was heartfelt and visceral. It may have been as hard as some of us have laughed for many months or years. Joy emanated from each of us – smiles, jokes, hugs and glances. Nothing needed to be translated. It was pure joy and happiness that only comes from being with those you love. It was quite a feeling that I will not soon forget.
That may be the lasting gift that I will take from this trip – the joy and laughter. It’s the by-product of the life that God calls us to, and yet many of us (myself included) find it difficult to sustain the joy amidst the daily routine in our life.
So the next time I am looking for joy in my life, I’ll only need to go back in my mind to that evening in Slobodskoy where good friends gathered around the Light to share the gift of laughter. I have a smile on my face already.