As I sit here on Easter morning, I realize that it is rather appropriate to have my 40th Birthday on Easter. Particularly, in consideration of all the navel-gazing and goal setting, I have been up to for the last few weeks. Abundance. Fertility. Re-birth. Kismet.
I don’t personally ascribe to one particular religion. Growing up surrounded by a mix of freethinkers, humanists, Buddhists, Christians and Native American tradition, I have always been impressed by the symbolism and the concordance and parallelism in world religions. There are many tales of the origins of Easter and at the most pragmatic level, it makes sense that in spring, humans would celebrate rebirth and fertility.
Personally, with a strong founding in the Christian tradition, I appreciate the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and rebirth. I won’t get into my personal interpretations of the Bible, you’ll have to wait another 40 years before I write about that, but I will say that I do think the symbolism contained within, is something to be meditated upon. There is always hope. There is always a path of light through the darkness.
The idea that I like most in Christianity, is the idea of being of service to our fellow humans. Buddhism, which is the religion I know second best, also has this principle. I think that the ability to be of service to others, may, in fact, be the ultimate key to happiness. Gratitude and achievement as I have discussed already, also contribute to feelings of happiness and satisfaction, but there is something magical about the act of being of service to our fellow humans.
When we see our fellow humans fully engaged in being of service, we may say that they are being Christlike or that they are expressing the Bodhisattva within. I once had the pleasure to listen to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh give a talk about the Bodhisattva within all of us. He pointed out that many people think that only saint like individuals, such as Mother Theresa, can be Bodhisattvas, but in fact, each and every one of us has the capacity. Indeed, when we focus on watering the good seeds, when we focus on being of service, when we take our focus off of “me” and put it out to the world, we can all experience the act of being Christlike.
When I worked for the Colorado Haiti Project, one of my mentors and my first travel partner to Petit Trou de Nippes, Don, was the first who introduced me to this idea of service from a Christian perspective. Don did not go to Haiti out of charity, he went in the spirit of service to his brothers and sisters in Haiti, and in giving service, he received in return the love and the spirit of connection to humankind. Don often said that the service provided to him by his experiences and relationships in Haiti significantly outweighed anything that he had given.
Many people think that Christ asks us to give charity and many people see giving charity simply as sending money or gifts to people who have less than they do. However; if you look at it from a perspective of Service, your experience becomes very different. Indeed, you may realize that the people to whom who wish to give charity, in fact, live very rich lives. They may have want of material needs, even food, and clean water, but they are rich. Conversely, there are those who are rich in material goods, while experiencing extreme poverty inside. And then there are those of us who are somewhere in between.
I will try to explain this another way. When Winston was a toddler, I felt like I was not an active participant in society. I spent too much time at home with just one other person, Winston. I decided I needed to get out and do something. I’d always enjoyed spending time with elderly people and after the death of my maternal grandmother, I was missing our weekly phone calls. This led me to volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels (MOW). I thought this would be a good way to help out homebound elderly people with a hot meal. This is what they advertise, but what I learned is that through just a simple interaction of even just a minute of conversation between two humans, so much could be shared. Some people see MOW as a simple act of charity, of giving food to those in need, but it is so much more. MOW provides a true service to both its clients and to its volunteers.
My regular route was just one day per week on Wednesday. I had about 14 regulars, many of whom lived in an affordable housing apartment complex for seniors. I had a young man who was a paraplegic from a car accident, but who insisted on living independently. His body may have given out, but his spirit was full of light and laughter. I had an elderly man who was a WWII veteran who dressed every day in black jeans, thick black glasses (think the 1950s), a crisp white shirt and a turquoise bolo tie. Herbert. He always had a joke and smile to share. Another was an elderly woman who had been born deaf attended Helen Keller’s school, she was thrilled that Winston and I knew a few signs, even if we couldn’t have a conversation. Yet another woman had lived her entire life Louisana, she often had a pot of collard greens simmering on her stove, but I think ordered MOWs because she was lonely. Her son had moved her to CO a few years before to be close to his family, but they worked too much and she had left all her friends behind. One house I visited was a Lafayette original. The woman’s family had been original settlers in Lafayette, her house had once stood almost alone in a neighborhood that was now surrounded by houses.
At first, I was concerned Winston coming with me would be a hindrance, but my people loved Winston. Our smiling faces at their doors brought a little bit of sunshine into lives that were primarily homebound. If it was super cold or windy and I left him in the car, sometimes they would insist that I at least roll down his window so they could blow him a kiss and a wave. When Winston started preschool, folks were seriously disappointed not to see his big blue eyes at their door each week.
In the minute it took to ring a doorbell, open a door and take a meal inside, I learned the histories the likes and dislikes, the medical problems, the dreams and stories of my clients. I learned to tell when they were feeling good or when something bad had happened. Once, I could tell that my WWII veteran was a little dazed, I called the MOW supervisor and told her he was a little off. He’d told me he was ok, but my gut knew he was different. The supervisor went and visited and called the medics to come check him out. He was in the process of suffering some kind of progressive stroke when I saw him he was just “out of it.” But, if I had not stopped by that day at noon, he would have died alone that night. Instead, he was around for a few more happy years, regaling his MOW drivers and his neighbors with stories and jokes.
In the end, I will never forget the several years I volunteered for meals-on-wheels. My heart swells every time I think of the people I met and I have so much gratitude for this program that brings not only physical nourishment to the bellies of homebound seniors (and the disabled) but most importantly spiritual nourishment. Many volunteers have been with the program for years, and if you find a moment to speak with them, their experiences will mirror mine. And they will mirror Don’s experience in Haiti. True service is a two-way street and it is much more than charity. True service is an exchange and it is the basis for genuine human connection and happiness.
And so, I invite you this Easter to find abundance through giving or sharing the act of service. If you have a need. If you are lonely. If you are sad or depressed. If you lack connection. Don’t ask for something to come to you or to take away your pain. Instead, look and see how you can be of service to another human. And in this exchange, I guarantee you will find your own suffering diminished. And, if you have a life that is already full of joy, then I ask you to spread that joy and share it through service.
God Bless. Namaste.
I love you. Go in peace.