Why We Serve
When I first began my practice in Reiki I couldn’t wait to burst out into the world and begin sharing it with people. My friends rolled their eyes every time I offered to practice Reiki on them. If you can imagine an overly ebullient woman coming at you with her “jazz hands” you might, at the very least, have rolled your eyes too. So while I was slowly building a clientele I decided I needed to channel this energy where it might be best utilized.
I enrolled in the volunteer training at Maitri, a residential facility for people living with AIDS and complications with HIV located in the Castro district of San Francisco. The word Maitri is sanskrit meaning "compassionate friendship". After the weekend training we were interviewed by Michelle, the volunteer coordinator to see what would be a good fit for us. Inspired by the weekend, I sat in Michelle’s office hopeful about what lie ahead. Her walls were filled with photos of smiling hospice residents and volunteers eating meals together, at local beach outings, making collages, having coffee or just sitting bedside. The residents of Maitri were people who were underserved, who had either been living on the streets or could no longer afford the cost of living on their own. Many had been suffering from trauma and addictions, long before the debilitating illness of HIV/AIDS struck their lives. So to see images of them being included, compassionately cared for, being loved, being respected and honored, it activated the servant in me.
What lies Within
Our sense of service lies within all of us. It longs to connect with a sense of unity, of being purposeful in the world. It prompts us to reach deeply within our soul, gather up the deeper knowing of why we are here and expand it outside of our comfort zone.
Since my twenties, I’m grateful that I’ve had many opportunities to connect with what has been on the outskirts of my own reality. I’ve volunteered as a court advocate for victims of domestic violence. I’ve helped with feedings and cleanings at a rehabilitation center for bald eagles, owls and other birds of prey. I’ve fostered feral kittens. I worked on the Rescue Squad for the Marine Mammal Center. I’ve led healing meditation in women’s shelters. Yet, none of these came without their own calamities. I have stories from each, ranging from the hilarity to the heartbreaking, that have flatlined my internal superhero and made me never want to go back, but something deeper pushed me back into the ring.
Engagement with our inner servant is the highest expression of our soul in the world.
When I told Michelle that I wanted to practice Reiki on the residents, she looked at me like a eucalyptus tree suddenly sprouted from my head. Back in 2003 not many people had heard of Reiki, so my newbie explanation of what Reiki was, paired with the “jazz hands” (yes, I did) could have contributed to her pause. She offered me a deal, “Come play Bingo with the residents on Tuesday night and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Again my heroic Reiki hopes were dashed, but I obliged and checked my ego at the door. Over a few months, enough trust was built where I’d take residents out for coffee. One resident, “Tommy from San Diego”, had old scars from cigar burns up and down his right arm from his father. He told his heartbreaking stories so matter-of-fact between drags off his cigarette. Weakened from his illness, Tommy was in a wheelchair. One day as I was rolling him back across the intersection of Duboce & Church we got the wheel of his chair stuck in the track of the N-Judah line. Tommy lunged forward almost out of his chair, he began cursing at me while the 22 MUNI was rolling towards us and I, trying my best to be calm, was internally freaking out. A nearby angel of a man crossing the street came to our rescue and guided us safely across the street. If a giant hole in the earth was suddenly created at that moment just for me I would have gladly fallen into it.
While I was never asked to take residents out for coffee again, they did begin to ask more about Reiki. Apparently I had created a reputation for being that “Raking Girl”. During my Tuesday shift residents would call me into their rooms to help relieve nausea, headaches or to simply soothe them to sleep. I smoothed their foreheads, stroked their hair and watched as peace washed over their bodies.
On my way to their rooms, I’d have to pass by “Raymond from Baton Rouge”. Raymond lived for years on the streets in San Francisco involved in drugs and prostitution. He arrived at Maitri to receive hospice care as he had been struck with full blown AIDS. His family refused to visit and he often shut the staff and volunteers out of his room. As I passed he’d call out, “Keep your voo-doo outta my room!”
I obliged with a simple wave and kept walking.
One month later, Raymond’s health had rapidly declined and he was not at peace with the fear this brought him. There was much left unsettled in his life. As I arrived for my regular volunteer shift, Michelle pulled me aside and said, “Raymond asked for you to visit him today.”
I quietly stepped into his room.
His eyes flickered open. “Raking Girl,” he declared in a raspy voice, “I don't want no voo-doo from you, but you seem like a good person to hold my hand."
When we see things that break our hearts, that appall us, that inspire us, that make us sit up and pay attention, it’s the Universe nudging us towards our truth. What we do with that truth is the beautiful choice we get to make. Whether it’s telling a story, raising money, rescuing a life or simply holding a hand. Engagement with our inner servant is the highest expression of our soul in the world.
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