In service, we never fail. —A proverb
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Walking along a busy city street with my son, his hand was suddenly wrenched from mine. In a panic I looked around and saw him walking swiftly and determinedly toward a woman we had passed, sitting on the sidewalk on a street corner with a paper cup in front of her. Sensing what he was up to, I followed behind slowly, watching him carefully as we both wended our way though the crowds of walkers.
As he reached the woman, who was in her 30s, and wearing a headscarf (she looked like a gypsy), he reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a coin. He held it up the glinting metal, their eyes met, and they both smiled as he dropped the coin in her cup. He ran back to me, placing his small, strong hand in mine. And we continued walking.
There was nothing to say to the boy, who had done a generous deed, arising in the moment, in response to a need he perceived, and impelled by his own will. There was nothing to say because it was an essential act and I was loath to overlay it with any moralism or interpretation. Unlike the coaching and cajoling required to get him to brush his teeth in the morning, the act had come from him, and I wanted to keep it clean.
There were two interconnected ideas this event gave me to ponder.
One is the preciousness of the force of will as it operates through a person, unimpeded by notions of should or could, moralism or belief—just the straight stuff of seeing a need and responding, serving from oneself, in the moment.
That will is like a flower bud, that, given the right conditions, will bloom into the beauty that it is. It can’t be pried open or required to bloom. It will when it is ready, in response to the right conditions of light and air, heat and humidity. Of course a flower can be “forced,” as can the will, but the term is misleading, as the coax is simply providing the conditions that would otherwise allow it to bloom.
The emergence of will in a child, which is shown in the tender being’s native interests unfolding, is a pure and miraculous event to behold. It is the embodiment of productive ease, with none of the resistance we have constructed for ourselves as adults. Through “education”—impacted psychic accretions of various sorts—we work hard to create a bevy of second-guesses to our impulses and motives, questioning whether they are correct, or pleasurable, or profitable.
Children have none of this mediation in the action of their essence in the world. They simply follow their native interests, which on the whole are good, and appropriate within the context of the great matrix of life and being. I think this is what the beatitude meant in suggesting we become as little children, in the event we wish to enter paradise.
The second idea the event arose for pondering is generosity.
The word comes from the Latin meaning “of noble birth.” It is a kingly quality. The word has evolved to describe anything done or given selflessly, without expectation of compensation or reciprocation.
Inevitably when we think of people we love or admire, alive or dead, we think of their degree of generosity.
Religions make generosity an obligation, which removes its force. Compulsion turns something vital into a means of gaining social standing or feeding vanity with public displays, or conversely, being ridden with guilt for our sins.
But religion is for those whose conscience is asleep. With an awakened conscience what is given is a simple gift, and at its best generosity is in secret. Generosity is the basis of what religions hold up as unattainable by all but a few prophets—unconditional love.
Instead of a discipline, what if we understood generosity as a disposition, being vigilant to see what we could do for others? What if each day we intended to have our eyes open to the needs of those around us and slyly respond to the needs we perceive? What if, instead of seeking what can be gotten from each situation, we were looking for what could be given?
In aiming to be generous, we step into a state of nobility, becoming more awake, alert, and ready for whatever arises. In such a state we forge a connection between our essence—the precious stuff of will—and our lives. With tiny, invisible acts we simultaneously heal ourselves and the wounds of the world.