One of my favorite holiday memories was of participating in a Messiah Singalong at Seattle’s University Unitarian Church the day after Christmas. While I still think of those times fondly, something else is more likely to come to my mind when I think of December 26 now.
I was at Amritapuri, India for Christmas in December of 2004. During the evening on Christmas day there was an entertainment program. What I remember most about that program was an incredible fire dancer.
The next morning, December 26, I was on the temple roof practicing with a singing group when someone told us that water had come all the way to the ashram gates. We didn’t know what they were talking about and for some reason just kept on singing. Then we heard people screaming. We looked over the balcony only to see water filling the ashram grounds. The 2004 tsunami had hit the nearby village and the water was now flowing through the ashram itself.
As anyone who knows her would expect, Amma went into action. Boats and canoes carried the villagers and the ashram residents to the other side of the backwaters. Amma fed and housed everyone in her colleges.
There was so much grief that day and for days to come. Many of the villagers had lost children, husbands, wives, friends, and relatives when they were pulled into the Arabian Sea by the tsunami wave. Amma consoled the survivors, and her own grief was visible.
There is one song I associate with the tsunami. Amma sang it a few days before the event, and once again in an outdoor courtyard a night or two after the tragedy. I was so moved by her tears when she sang the ending lines “Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu” (May all beings in the world be happy).
In the months and years that followed, Amma provided tsunami disaster relief work in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Embracing the World spent forty-six million dollars building new houses and villages, feeding survivors, replacing the lost boats of fisherman, providing vocational training to women, giving scholarships to children, and much, much more.