Another excerpt from my manuscript: The Commonzense of Saint James
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.” – Walter Anderson
Several years ago I was having a difficult time in both my personal and professional life. Rather than throw myself a pity party I decided I desperately needed to do something that would help me put my “troubles” in perspective. By chance my minister encouraged me to deliver hot meals to elderly shut-ins in my community. What I discovered is what I knew existed but hadn’t seen; or it could be said that I wasn’t looking for it in my own backyard: poverty, loneliness, and need. I met people who had very little in the way of material goods and at best inadequate shelter. For the majority of these people, I would be the only human contact they would have that day, and for some, the only hot meal.
Over a three year period, at least once or twice a week, I knocked on the doors of neighbors I had never had the pleasure of meeting. Generally, I was greeted with warmth and with more smiles than frowns, which at first amazed me. However, I soon understood that these smiles revealed the inner spirit each of us shares but are often afraid to express to others, let alone to perfect strangers.
It remains a humbling experience for me even today to provide a hand to these wonderful people. I love hearing stories about their lives and their families, and even sharing simple conversations with them about the weather brings me joy. Though they are not wealthy in material goods, each is rich in a lifetime’s experience of living and loving.
I felt guilty in the beginning that I wasn’t doing enough to help them, but now I realize that I am guilty of not giving them more than they are giving me. Each one of them provides me with a gift—the gift of perspective, and all I am offering in return is my time and a hot meal.
Our short journey through life must include perspective in order to provide us with balance and peace. Pray and meditate that your eyes and heart will be compassionately opened to see the lives and needs of others and that you will expand your definition of who your neighbors truly are. Here’s the hard part, though; we need to move beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone, maybe even our perceived prejudices, and meet, talk, and knock on the doors of all of this world’s children—not just the ones who look like us, talk like us, drive the same car we do, or believe what we believe. As Marshall Bowden cautioned in his article titled “Changing Roles and Allowing Yourself to Evolve” on the Tiny Buddha website, “Change is seldom easy or comfortable, but when we don’t let go and allow life to flow the way it’s going, we miss out on opportunities to grow, learn, and have new adventures.” Love and compassion will open our hearts to perspective, and with it, new adventures will follow.