Friday, January 06, 2006

for the good of all mankind

And so lately I've been thinking about service. I am not a religious person. Even though it's become fairly cliche to say this, my journey is one of Spirit. After hating Los Angeles for more than three years, I decided to instead open myself up and take advantage of the things that are available here. One of them is a wonderful church that traffics in Spirit, rather than the boundaries of a specific religion. I love this church, I really do.

But I am still me. There's no one else I'd rather be, but me can be appallingly self-centered and, let's face it, downright stingy with the me time. Everyone knows a part of any spiritual pursuit centers on the giving of self in the service of others. This is hard when you're a) a hermit, b) utterly preoccupied with the world inside your own head, c) one who measures time in terms of how many hours you'll get to spend at home, being hermity, and d) a person who hasn't fancied herself very reliable when it comes to showing up to do stuff in the flesh.

Right before I started attending church, in my chase for things to love about LA, I started attending Stitch 'n Bitch at the Farmer's Market. For me, this, too, is a spiritual experience because there are people to love and there is creativity to love and the wonder of yarn to admire. It forces me out of myself and into the world in a way that makes me feel so supported, and that allows me to support others. (If God isn't in that, I don't know where She is.) In the time that I've been attending, about 7 months, I've made some good friends. One of them, Natalie, has become my writing buddy -- meaning we meet a few times a week to nosh and kvetch and work on our individual writing projects.

Because church and SnB have been going so well (I'm actually managing regular attendance at both and if you know me, La Hermita, you know that's a big deal) I've started thinking, Hey, maybe I could show up for one more weekly commitment. Maybe I could go ahead and be a volunteer literacy tutor for the public library, like I've been thinking about for the past, oh, ten years. As someone who can solidly say that reading has saved me, time after time, it's a gift I'd like to help others receive. The thought of someone's ability to read hinging on my ability to wrestle myself out of solitary confinement is a little scary, I'll admit, but more and more I'm compelled to do something to contribute to the world.

Which brings me to this: How many ways do we all contribute that we don't count because they seem too easy?

I am NOT a phone person. But when a friend calls and needs to talk, I do.

Even though I'm not exactly clear on how to pray or what's appropriate to pray for, I pray for people when they're suffering, and when they're on a roll and I want them to stay there.

I am generous. I give things away and will take you out for a good meal on payday.

When I lived in New York, I gave countless dollars to strangers who asked for money.

Most of my knitting goes to other people. See the hat? Above? I knit that to donate to victims of Hurricane Katrina. This baby blanket, too:

When the whole debacle happened, I was moved beyond words. I was living in New York during September 11th, and Hurricane Katrina (and the Bush Administration's handling of it -- Hello? Condi? Could you possibly feed the need for rich Corinthian leather soles some other time?) brought on the same feeling of helplessness, of wanting to do something to bring comfort to people who found themselves firmly situated between a hard place and hell. This time, though, I could do more than just ride my bike down to Ground Zero, watch in horror as emergency vehicles revved to and away from the scene, and prisoners who'd been evacuated from nearby jails screamed from bus windows at rifle-wielding guards and passers-by. More than meet a middle-aged Jewish guy named Alan and go with him for Indian food and talk of revolt against the American government (mostly his talk, but a little mine, too). This time, I was armed with needles. I took them up, went to a shop called Edna Hart in Silverlake where kindly Edna was giving away cotton to knit stuff for Katrina babies, and made the items you see here.

And so I am not all bad.

The thing is to expand my vision of what service is. It is any time I do something for someone, whether I know them or not, when part of me would rather be laying on my bed, watching DVDs, reading knitting books, and eating bon bons. It is the little things as much as it is knitting for charity or digging up the rubble of September 11th. It is camaraderie and communion with a stranger over Indian food and under unthinkable world conditions. And I have a feeling that the more of these small things I consciously rack up, the easier and more necessary it will become to do the bigger ones, like leaving my comfort zone and showing up to help someone know the joy of the written word.

One day when I was whining about the tragedy in Darfur, Sudan, and how those poor people need me and what a loss I'm at over what to do for them and how burdened the responsibility to save them made me feel, a friend looked at me and said, You think it's about you saving them. But how do you know they wouldn't be the ones saving you? This is radical in its simplicity, no?

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