How may I serve you?
That’s the key to a happy life, you know. Learning to serve others selflessly with no expectation of a reward other than the knowledge you are doing unto others something you’d want them to do . . . unto everyone else.
It’s a different version of the golden rule, which I always thought had some sort of tit for tat attached. “Do unto others what you would like done unto you,” is one of the versions I remember growing up in a Christian household. My father was Greek Orthodox and my mother Catholic. Mom had her way; she was in cahoots with the parish priest and my dad actually “did unto others” but never saw any of his sons “do unto him” by following the Orthodox path. Well, there are always the grandchildren, right nephews Joe, Michael and Rocky, and let’s not forget Nick as well as any we don’t know about who may have entered this country out-of-wedlock.
“. . . serving others is just like serving yourself . . .”
No, serving others is just like serving yourself. You want to end all the suffering in your own life, and the best way to start is to turn your focus away from your woes and zero in on all others, all the ones you might have the least bit of contact with or upon, and can do something, even the slightest thing to make them more comfortable, less tense, and feeling that at least one person out of 8 billion really does care.
I didn’t know it, until “awakening” in Ithaca in a three-day retreat when the veil of illusion was slowly removed from my eyes and I saw like a mystic. It’s no big deal. I view things as I believe they should be, not the way they are. My goal in life is to try my best to get others to see things this way, the ideal reality, and not the conventional or illusory way.
Insight showed me that I have served others one way or another in most of my adult life. It showed in the jobs I held, the positions I sought to take for a “right livelihood;” the beliefs I adopted while discarding bits and pieces of what didn’t “feel right” or those I might not be ready to fully adopt at this moment.
I worked as a printer when I was 18 years old. I studied the trade while in high school, and learned what is called the “offset” process. t has to do with oil and water not mixing and how ink, an oil-based substance, would somehow adhere to another substance. I can’t tell you what water’s got to do with it, but I think one washes away the other and an image that had been burned into a metal plate “grasps” the ink while all mass around the image or “type” is washed away. What is conveyed to paper is what you see: Black ink on a white background.
I was pretty good at developing negatives for burning images into plates. I could make a plate with just the right amount of muscle rubbing the flat metal not to tire myself out. When the plate was completed, my job ended. The plate would be sent to a “pressman” (or woman) who’d adjust it into the large printing presses and run off a couple hundred thousands copies of something or other. (Actually, I think plates at that time were only good for tens of thousands of copies, but who’s counting?)
Someone was expected to read the printed matter. Some copy-writer created a series of words and graphic arts to draw the attention of a reader. (I worked as a copy-writer for a short time and I know I tried to “serve” the consuming public who’d be choosing between one product and another for an acquisition. I also “served” my boss in providing him with the best job I could.)
(This is an excerpt from the first book I wrote, still unpublished, called “Ithaca Incites Mystical Insights.”)
Printing has always been a two-way street in my book. You engage in one effort for the benefit of another. Take the patron saint of the printing press, a German fellow named Gutenberg. If it wasn’t for him, the Christian bible would never had been distributed so widely, thereby helping all people. (Actually, Western Civilization only. The East was doing pretty well without having to suffer through such growing pains as the “dark ages.)
I provided a service and I felt fulfilled in doing my small part.
I got drafted and served in the military. Yes, of course it counts even if you didn’t “sign up” for service. Us poor kids in urban settings all knew we were going to be drafted unless your dad knew some politician or had money to elaborate how serious your knee or back problem really was. Uh oh. You’re not 4-A and now you can’t be drafted.
Anyway, I got discharged after serving less than two years, and then I “signed up” or “re-up-ed” to go OCS (Officers Candidate School) where I learned to serve my country and whatever else the top brass had ordered me to serve. I went to war, did my thing, and returned home where I served some more.
While in community college, I volunteered to counsel other veterans returning home interested in attending college courses. Who knew whether they were “college material.” You dodged bullets and stepped around land mines, I guess that qualifies you for getting through the obstacle course of higher education Plus, I can show you how Uncle Sam will pay you a certain amount of money each month to help raise you into the middle class and make our country a helluva prosperous one! That road generally starts with a good education, something most of the people I grew up with never pursued, perhaps because they tired of serving others and wanted to focus on themselves. It’s too bad. They might have gained the world, but lost so much of themselves, not to mention missing the boat to happiness.
Yes, serving others leads to happiness! Ask the Dalai Lama, or the nuns working as hard as Mother Theresa worked in the streets of Calcutta and elsewhere.
It is truly better “to give, and not receive,” particularly when it costs so little to bring about such great joy in anther’s life. That joy starts out as a tiny smile that barely breaks through into a smile until the truly needy accepts the small offering and whispers a thank you. Even if you give anonymously as most of us do, we can use our imaginations to “visualize” the reception our gift is greeted with. Sneakers will fit and the poor can give away or throw out the ones filled with holes. That little dress will look great on my 6-year-old; Tommy can play catch with the baseball (or glove); we can have heat in our apartment for another month.
By visualizing how you’d feel if some benefactor aided you, you can get a thrill of sorts. You live vicariously through gift-giving. You are serving others with no wish to gain something from it except the altruistic feeling and knowledge that you did the right thing. You’re a “mensch” as my Hebrew friends might point out. It’s another Mitzvah in the long line of Mitzvahs you perform for the glory of a higher being.
I served as a reporter for a newspaper. I wrote stories that informed people about government, crime, social activities as well as the weather. It was a true service even though our critics say we writers were simply trying to sell the news so that we could get more advertisers and make lots of money.
I found the “service road “ for me leading through the union movement, as I took part in helping to negotiate contracts between the papers’ management and the Newspaper Guild. I felt so pulled to serve others more directly that I took a leave of absence and worked as a union organizer trying my best to bring the union gospel to non-union newspaper employees all over the Philadelphia area.
That’s when I decided to go to law school. I wanted to lead workers into a world where there’d be little poverty, little economic inequality and we’d all live happily ever after.
It didn’t work out that way after getting a D+ in my labor Law class, forcing me to take that as a sign from God that I should find service elsewhere. And, I did, studying criminal law (where I’d gotten an average a little better than a C+!)
I worked as a public defender in Philadelphia for 20 years, serving poor people charged with crimes as well as the families who suffered along with their loved ones while seeking a trial or the right sentence to serve for any criminal actions committed.
I got paid, of course. In the meantime, I attended church “services. “I guess the main one getting credit for “serving” would be the one leading the spiritual activities.
But, simply attending a meeting with other Congregationalists provides a service to everyone, including yourself.
I served on an alumni board for a community college and became a member of a vets’ club. I got no pay for either activity, and like attending church services, I didn’t expect any. In fact, I seemed to always give at services and to the organizations. So, maybe they don’t really count. After all, I did hope to gain somethings. Heaven at the church, and friendship and possible job contacts at the others.
Writing has become my latest and greatest way I know of serving. I write with no pecuniary interest. I’d like others to read this, but even if I am long gone and working on two or more lifetimes after this one, I’d still be happy.
It’s like St. Teresa of Avila said. Even if just one person can gain from what I put on paper, then I have served the will of God. Not that I am comparing myself to such a humble and compassion person as the Carmelite nun from the 1550s. It’s her spirit that I have tried to lasso and bring into my corral. Read and be inspired to love another, to give of yourself with no hope of gain, to seek death so that another might live in your place if that is what may be required by the divine Essence, then who am I to deny it? Take the last breath from this body if it could serve another; if it could serve the greater purpose of the universe; let a smile be on my face as I look death in the face and ask as boldly as the tough kid from Brewerytown could ask Death: “What took you so long?”