Try not to become a [wo]man of success but rather try to become a [wo]man of value.  (Albert Einstein)

I have never questioned the fact that I am here to be of service to others. I have, at times, questioned where the line between service to others, and disservice to self, lay. But, I have never for one moment believed anything other than that we are to be helpmates to one another. This whole concept has been popping into my screen for days now, and I find myself devoting a lot of time and thought to it. And then tonight, I read one of the blogs I follow, and her post drove it all home for me (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/2010/02/payments.html ).

I can remember a lot of times when my father gathered up his tools, and went to build something for one of his siblings. He never expected payment – he only knew that he had the necessary expertise, and willing hands. My mother has spent her life in service to others – to her family, to her extended family, to her friends, to her students. They cast a long shadow. Growing up, we were expected to do for others, and it was taken for granted that helping out is just what you do. Of the many gifts that my parents gave me, for this, I am the most grateful.

I went to Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and one of the pillars their entire educational philosophy rests upon is service. Each class seemed to include some service component – in the course of pursuing my degrees, I have done an intense amount of fieldwork and volunteering. And I can remember wondering, when some of my classmates would complain, and argue that there was no educational value in these experiences – if they could see no educational value in reaching out to their fellow human beings in friendship and kindness, what on earth did they believe we were doing here?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

I am no Mother Teresa, I am no Gandhi, I am no great humanitarian. But, I look for the moments where I can be of service in the every day, in the small ways. The other day, I was on my way to lunch at work, and I saw a very elderly lady struggling to get her groceries from her cart and into her car. Without hesitation, I was there, like the stereotypical Girl Scout, with a “Can I help you with that Ma’am?” And she was really grateful. When I first saw her, she looked anxious and she was struggling – and when I walked away, she was smiling.

And afterward, I thought about the fact that I never even considered doing anything else. (I also thought about the fact that elderly people might be wary of offers of assistance, and that this was something that I was going to have to start taking into consideration, even though the entire reason for their wariness makes me intensely sad). And I realized that this was the kind of thing that makes life GOOD, and makes us feel GOOD about being here and being human.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves. (Helen Keller)

I’ve encountered all sorts of people who believe that we aren’t here to be of service to others, that God expects nothing from us, and that we are only here to experience happiness. I find that a hard bite to swallow. I find that line of thinking impossible to believe – if that is true, then I am bereft and adrift. If that is true, then why do anything?

I think what I am really getting at here is the concept of empathy. Of being able to feel what it is like to walk another’s path, and to reach out to them based on that understanding. I have always been an insatiable reader, and when I read, I joined those worlds, became those characters – I struggled with them, wept with them, laughed aloud with them. I sank into the experience of what it would feel like to be them. I think that this is what has really helped me grow my already empathic nature.

If you have empathy for someone, you have compassion for them – you reach out to them in a way that preserves their dignity, and honors the bond we share as living beings. This is different than pity – pity puts you on a pedestal, and others somewhere beneath you. Compassion is one person reaching out to another laterally, and with detachment.

In Milwaukee, a twenty-one year old man was shot and killed by the young men who were attempting to rob him, because he had no money to give them. They shot him in the back as he fled. At the trial, one of them turned and grinned at the murdered boy’s parents, as if to say, “This doesn’t touch me. None of this affects me. I have no remorse.”

One of my coworkers was set upon on his way home from work by a group of six young men, and they attempted to beat him – when he wouldn’t go down, they ran off. When they were caught and questioned, they said that they did it because they were bored. Things like this happen every day, and I cannot understand how or why. If these attackers could empathize with others, they would not do these things, because they would know that to hurt another is to really hurt yourself.

Great and wonderful acts of generosity and kindness and compassion happen every day, too – large and small acts of service, performed out of empathy and compassion. That is what I choose to focus on. That is what I choose to spread along my path. The final Reiki Principle states, “Just for today, count your blessings and be kind to every living thing.” This is one of the easiest for me to follow (not always the count my blessings part, but I’m working on that!). This is the one that I wish was indelibly tattooed on my forehead. This is the one that I want to permeate my being – and the one I most want to spread to others.

So, this week, I plan to make a special effort to honor myself by honoring others. By looking for all the quiet moments where I can be of service. By setting my foot soundly on the path with purpose.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. (Albert Einstein)

‘Nuff said.

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