Today was by far the most emotional Seva Cafes that I have experienced. I can’t begin to explain why, all I know that is that every time I engaged in a new activity, a new emotion flooded into my being.
It started with the orientation. After all the volunteers introduced themselves, I for some reason was compelled to share the story of Biba’s Aunt. Biba is one of those people who is always kind and gentle to everyone she meets. Recently her Aunt passed away. Despite not knowing her Aunt, I somehow felt that I need to be a part of the ceremonies. Thoughts of death, bring up many thoughts on life. A realization sets in that this “living” is very temporary, and very short. It is almost as if our entire lives are like wind, arising only to pass away. Somehow, the passing of Biba’s Aunt brought me back to the concept of the Seva Cafe. In the short time that we are here on this planet, the question that urges us, is what direction are we moving in? Even in this moment, some of our brothers and sisters are headed to wage war onto each other, that is the direction they are taking their lives. Some people are acting out their greed, their fears, their hatred, or their egos. … and for some reason, in my own life, I have a small opportunity to move my life into a completely different direction. In this temporary life, I hope that we are not being busy for the sake of being busy, that we are actually taking the time to reflect on what is most important.
Somehow, in that orientation, Biba’s aunt was with us.
The entire day was packed with emotion. I recalled walking outside for a moment, when I returned, I looked around and noticed that every person in the room was wearing a smile. What an amazing place I thought, this is love.
At one point, I recognized a homeless man sitting on one of the tables outside. I remembered him from the launch two weeks ago and recalled how he had left immediately after finishing his meal without waiting for the server to bring him his envelope. For some reason, this time I felt compelled to sit with him. He looked like he was in his late 50s, old enough to be my father. I knew that my own father would want me to treat him with respect, so I sat down, as if I was literally his son. I held his hand for a few moments and asked him how he was doing. He was counting his change hoping to find enough money for a beef sandwich… he had apparantly forgotton that every Saturday evening there are no prices, and more importantly that all the meals are vegetarian :) .
I wanted to give my new friend an opportunity, an opportunity to see the world differently from how he always sees it. I told him that there is a lot of pain and suffering in the world and that the Seva Cafe simply gives us an opportunity to spread some love. That’s all I needed to say. He immediately had tears in his eyes. He told me that he knew about pain and suffering too well. Maybe what he really needed most in that moment was someone to remind him that there is hope in life. I told him that we would bring out a meal for him, and that the food he was about to eat had been paid for by someone he will never meet… and that everyone in the kitchen was preparing that one meal for him with one intention: to serve him with love. I also wanted him to know that he is part of the hope for this world, and that he too would have the opportunity to help pay for a future guest’s meal, as a gift to someone who he will never meet.
When he walked away after his meal, I knew we had nourished something in that man well beyond his stomach. He left 93 cents behind, as a gift, to help pay for someone else’s meal.
Towards the end of the night, my friend Biba and some of her relatives dropped by. They had spent the entire day at the funeral and decided to be with us in the evening. At the end of their meal, I wanted to honor their aunt in a special way. I grabbed our Share the Love Box and placed it right in the center of their dining table. I opened it and showed them the money that sat inside. The Share the Love Box is a profound experiement in Trust. It sits by the door and anyone can take money from it. We leave a note by the box to remind people that they can take money, or leave money, for the purpose of conducting acts of kindness. So far, we have had plenty of people leaving money in the box, but very few folks that are actually willing to take money out. Taking money from that box brings a strong sense of responsibility. You become tied to the intentions of the person who left the money in the first place. I felt that this was an opportunity to do something special for Biba’s Aunt. I asked everyone on the table to reach into the box, to take a few dollars and then within the next week to put those funds to good use. I happened to pull a $5 bill out myself. Maybe I’ll buy a random person a sandwich and tell him that is a gift, from a woman that I’ve never met, whose journey here has come to an end, and who has somehow become a part of the very air we breath.