I posted this story to http://www.helpothers.org/
A friend of mine, Carolina Quedeza (one of my favorite people on earth), and I volunteered with a group called “The Dream Center” on Saturday. They have a converted an old hospital into a service complex dedicated to helping Los Angelenos near Hollywood.
Last week one of my co-workers, told me that his service group was doing a project with Habitat for Humanity. I was really excited. It’s not very often that I get to do a project where a few years later, if I’m feeling bummed out or over-proud, that I can drive by and tell myself, “I helped build that” to help check where my head is at. But, the service group got bumped off of that project. But we were lucky enough that the people at Habitat for Humanity connected us with The Dream Center to still do a project on that same day at roughly the same time. So very few people ended up dropping out. My first reaction was, admittedly, “I wish I could have built a house that day.” but then I thought, it’s the same group of people. I had to write some emails to tell people that I had been telling of the house build that we changed projects. Most of the people shared my feelings of somewhat dissappointment. But it would be basically the same great group of people that I had yet to meet. And probably like Krishna would have told Arjuna, “just do what you are here to do” :-)
We were to pass out food and hygiene products at the neighborhood station that Dream Center visit every Saturday morning. By the time we get there, a line has already formed around the block. I was excited to practice my long forgot spanish. But then, our group leader asked, “who wants to start trash pick up?” I could tell most people wanted to be with the people. A guy raised his hands and I also took a trash bag. we shared a pair of gloves.
By the time we came back, the food was all distributed. The crowd had pretty much left. I felt a little bummed. There was a young guy there that had got into some fights and got suspended from school. Our group leader, Nancy, was talking to him. Nancy was probably about 18 herself. She kept telling the younger man, that he has to stop blaming others and take responsibility for his actions. I liked how she still respected his feelings. She told him to go ahead and defend himself, but realize that she doesn’t want the many fights to become a pattern for this young man. I wanted to jump in to the conversation so badly. I had already formulated something that could be constructive. But decided that I shouldn’t jump in as someone the kid doesn’t know, and that moment never presented itself. I’m also a bit shy with new people. The kids left and I was impressed by the situation.
Next, a young man named Danfi told us it was time to do the most important part of this project: to invite people to church. Oh No! I’ve always hated church. And sometimes, I’m too quick to jump up and say something bad about people that go to church. I really believe that the idea of a soul and a god is something delusional people have brought upon themselves. I’ve read that a soul is based on human self preservation (so that we can always insulate ourselves from impermanence). And gods are based on self-protection, so when times are rough we can always ask for help. I just felt that these beliefs made me think in an nonconstructive way, and then when I let go of those ideas, is when I really started to know myself and the rest of the world.
Anyways… I had been talking to Danfi and he told me about how he came from Virginia to be a part of the dream center. He told me all he wanted to do was to know his god’s intention for him. He wanted to be a “walking example” of Jesus Christ. He was having a conversation with another 15 year old dude, named Eddie about how god can preach through tongues and how the bible says that god can speak through babies and even donkeys. He had dedicated 9 months of his life to become a master preacher at the Los Angeles temple. He was a good guy that enjoyed helping younger kids.
So I bit my lip. There was a prideful part of me that wanted to tell him, “you’re a good guy, but you should want to help people for yourself and not to get to heaven.” I always want to ask people that are religious why most of the people I’ve met at churches and temple seemed pre-judgmental. I was alittle annoyed that he seemed to imply that I need to come to church when I told him I don’t follow any religion. I wanted ask him why wars and intolerance are based on religion. But I didn’t because it would have sucked. So it I bit my lip.
Telling people to come to church was more important than the service. And we were told that the service was a tool for the greater good of bringing people to church. I had to try very hard to rationalize in my mind, “bringing people together in the community is always a good idea. Andi it’s good that some of these people will have commonality of their religion.”
Next we had to knock on doors. Not many people knew English in the neighborhood. I was glad my friend Carolina speaks Spanish beautifully. To me, all I wanted to say was “comida gratis a la diez y medio”. Some people didn’t open the door for us. No problemo.
I told Danfi that I’d like to invite him to the Be The Cause Walk for hope on Sept 22nd. He said, he’d love to. Someone that I thought was my friend said he was annoyed by the fact that I didn’t believe in god and ended our friendship back in April/March. So I was glad that Danfi felt good about checking into all the non-profits and volunteer opportunities at our walk-a-thon.
I felt good that I did a project in LA. I haven’t been in those neighborhoods for a long time. Every project, I learn something about myself. The night before, my friend Sukh, was saying how service helps him feel good. There is a yearning inside all of us to let go of our “egos” and yet be more “centered” on ourselves. He was telling us why he liked to meditate and how that helps him be more aware of himself. Writing experiences does the same for us too.