Serving Happens When Separateness Stops
Some years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song called, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” If you think about it, we are all, in each moment, serving something or somebody. It may not be, as Dylan suggests, “the Devil or the Lord,” but daily we serve our business or our boss, our spouse, our kids, our friends, our community, our field of research, some institution, aim, or process. In a moment, we may serve the forces of impatience, annoyance, and greed, or we may serve the forces of compassion and consciousness.
Serving is actually a natural, innate capacity. We don’t need to learn new techniques or acquire anything we don’t already have. When our nose itches, our hand scratches it. We recognize that our nose and hands are connected, that they are parts of the same whole, and therefore the hand naturally “serves” the nose. Think of a mother and her children. While she recognizes her offspring as separate beings, in some ways she senses them as extensions or appendages of herself. Their connection to her is obvious, and caring for them comes naturally to her. Family members in general feel connected, and they will usually help each other when in need. If we aspire to serve a larger entity than our immediate family, then our definition of family will have to expand.
Our experience with service projects has given us personal experience of a perspective that a friend has written about: “Our capacity to serve is directly proportional to the size of the entity with which we identify. If I identify only with myself, I will only have one person’s worth of energy. The wider my feelings of identification, the more energy I’ll receive in order to serve that greater entity. Imagine if a person identified with the human race. Think of how much energy to serve that this person would have and the effect that could have on humanity.”
At this time, we have a core group of about 25 people who volunteer for various service projects at home and abroad. Locally, each holiday season we sing carols at convalescent homes and hospitals. Outside the U.S, volunteers have made periodic trips to the Issan District of Thailand to work with the Daughters of Charity Sisters who administer care to HIV/AIDS patients and their children. We have traveled to Central Mexico to take food and clothing to the Tarahumara Indians and to work with Habitat for Humanity. One year our construction crew helped fix roofing, plumbing, and electrical problems at the community center in a Mexican border town near Tijuana.
A crew of women volunteered in eastern India at a “Train Platform School” that offers education and vocational training to scores of underprivileged kids. After hurricane Katrina, 28 volunteers spent a month in Mississippi helping with reconstruction. We have made two trips to Thailand to do construction projects for and offer aid to Burmese refugees and political exiles living in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. This last Fall, 18 volunteers spent a month in Takeo, Cambodia, delivering requested medicines to an eye clinic, handing out school supplies and toothbrush/paste kits to hundreds of children, offering art and language classes and performing puppet shows in multiple schools, and building a three-room “recovery wing” for mothers who have just given birth at a rural clinic.
How do we do it? When possible, volunteers pay their own expenses, and we receive periodic donations from generous family and friends. In our attempts to serve something greater than ourselves, we seem to get what we need in order to do it. However big the undertaking, however much good we hope to do, the time, the strength, and the resources to make it happen have, in every case, become available.