A small, impoverished boy was standing barefoot on the New York City streets, looking wistfully in the window of a shoe store. A well dressed woman, walking down the street, saw him and asked him, “My child, why are you looking so sadly in this window?”
The small boy looked up at her and replied, “I am asking God to please give me a pair of shoes.”
The woman took the boy’s small hand and led him into the shoe store, where she immediately asked the clerk for a bucket of warm water and 10 pairs of socks. Then, placing the boy’s dirty feet into the water, she tenderly washed them and then put a pair of warm socks on him. Then, she told the clerk to bring shoes for the boy.
As they left the store, the boy’s small feet now snugly in a pair of new shoes, and a bag of warm socks held tightly in his fist, he clenched the woman’s hand and looked up into her eyes. “Are you God’s wife?” he asked.
This story is not only a beautiful snippet from life in a big city. Rather it is a deep lesson about how to live our own lives. Instead of simply saying, “Oh, how sweet,” and moving on, let us really take this story to heart.
How easy it is to pass by those less fortunate with a simple sigh of sympathy or with a token”aid,” perhaps a coin or two tossed in their direction. These small gestures of empathy and charity make us feel like we are compassionate people who just live in an unjust world. However, is the homeless man helped by our sigh of disdain? Does the coin we hand him really make a difference? Are we really being compassionate, or are we just soothing our own consciences?
How much more difficult it is to really stop, take a moment out of our hectic lives and see what is needed. Yet, how much more divine that is. There are always places to be and things to do. If we wait until we are “free” in order to take care of others, the time will never come. Real divinity, real selflessness is giving when it is not necessarily convenient to give. It is giving according to the others needs, not according to our own agenda and convenience.
The wealthy woman probably had some place else to be on that cold day in New York City. She could have easily walked by the boy, thinking to herself, “Our government really needs to do something about homelessness,” she could have looked the other way and continued on with her errands. But she didn’t. That is what makes her special.
We tend to give decadently to ourselves and to our own families. Particularly at this holiday season. We will pile gifts for our families under Christmas trees until there is no room left. We will spend hours dreaming up the ideal present for our family members. We will shop and shop for the perfect gift for our friends, acquaintances and colleagues. No problem. We love each other and so we give gifts. This is fine. However, let us also remember, though, to extend that compassion and that love to others who really need it. Let us remember that our family extends beyond the walls of the blood cell. The child starving on the street, the HIV+ orphan whose parents died of AIDS, the handicapped and homeless shivering under a thin blanket living in a doorway — they may not share our DNA, they may not have joined our family through vows of marriage, they may not have come through our own womb. Yet that does not make them any less our true family. It does not make them any less our own flesh and blood or our own responsibility. Our scriptures say “Vasudhiaiva kutumbakam.” It means, “The world is one family.” This is not a trite slogan to plead for world peace. Rather it is the veritable truth of our own existence. It is an undeniable fact to which anyone who has come even remotely near spiritual awareness will attest. It is nothing but the veil of Maya (cosmic illusion) that makes one child seem like “ours” and another child seem like “not ours.” They are all ours.
This holiday season let us truly work at cultivating the divine vision which allows us to see every suffering child as our own, every homeless man as our father, every woman unable to provide her babies with proper nutrition or medicines as our own mother, every elderly person dying alone in pain and agony as our own grandparent. Let the love in our hearts which we feel for our limited families extend and extend until it overflows and touches every person in every corner of the world.
As we perform our daily meditations, let us add a special meditation in which we feel our heart grow and expand with each breath. Let the love and the warmth we feel in our heart expand throughout our bodies into the tips of our fingers, so that all those we touch are touched by the hand of love. Let us, with each exhalation, release another brick in the wall of our own limited sense of self until our true Self expands and flows and melts into all of Creation. Let us, in our prayers, pray just as fervently, just as passionately for those whom we think are “strangers” as for those whom we think are “family.”
Let us vow never to turn a blind eye on someone in need. Let us vow to use what God has given us to really serve His children. Let us live our lives as though we, too, are “God’s wife.”
May God bless you all.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati