It is Chinese New Year 2020, the Year of the Rat, and a cold, dark January evening here in Sacramento. Rats, as I have read in Chinese lore, represent resilience and rat years are supposed to be years of rejuvenation and renewal. I see this as a positive sign as I head out to meet some friends for an evening at Saint John’s Program for Real Change. We are hosting our annual Lunar New Year’s party for the women and children of Saint John’s to wish them good luck on their healing journeys.
My friends and I have hosted this party for the last few years. We bring Chinese food, art projects for the kids and dessert with fortune cookies. The idea is really simple, just some appetizers and basic crafts, but the women and children seem grateful and everyone has fun. This year we have brought small cups and red flowers for the women to make arrangements. I am struck by how strongly they react to the flowers and how much they appreciate beauty.
The room grows loud as everyone gathers, there are children running and babies yelling, while we serve tea and listen to their stories. We try to understand what their lives were like before coming to Saint John’s. The women all appear happy to be here even though I imagine it must be hard to live so closely with your kids in a small room. There are also a lot of rules to follow and they have difficult internal work ahead of them. The Chinese believe rats to be reliable people who will be content to live a quiet, stable life. I want this so much for these kind, resilient women.
As the party winds down we sweep the floor and clean up the paint, and tell the women we hope they have a successful year as they filter back to their rooms. It’s amazing to me that they have found their way to the red doors, and left behind addiction, abuse, and unimaginable trauma. Here they are able to laugh and focus on their children. I think that good luck has already been bestowed on them, and my friends and I share the feeling that 2020 is going to be an amazing year.
Now eight months later I think of those women and wonder how they are enduring the pandemic. Is it one more hurdle on an already turbulent road? Are they filled with sadness and anxiety at the spiraling of the world? Or are they doing okay, taking the bumps singularly and staying on course? I imagine them thriving while the rest of us struggle because they are used to difficulty. My hope is that what many are calling a terrible year and even the worst of years, could still for these women be a very lucky year. A year of recovery and renewal.
Maybe even the luckiest of years.
By Lisa Thibodeau, Volunteer at Saint John’s Program for Real Change