by Troy Chapman
I saw an elderly man coming out of the cafeteria the other day with a styrofoam food tray in his hand. Sometimes when men go on medical transfers or miss a meal for some other reason not in their control, the food service workers will save a tray that they can take back to the cell. That was the case with this gentleman. I was walking by just as he was coming out. The sidewalks were icy and he held the tray in both hands and took small steps, obviously concerned about losing his footing.
I had a powerful urge to go, take the tray out of his hand and hang on to his elbow. I didn’t do so because in prison you’ve got to be careful about causing offense. If he had slipped that would have been different. But as he was managing, I left him alone.
But I thought about the urge to help him. I don’t present it here as evidence of any special virtue on my part. In fact, though it’s sometimes repressed by our culture, and damaged in some people, I think this urge to be helpful and show kindness is universal and part of our nature.
At the moment, however, I was looking at it personally in regard to myself. I was asking why I had this impulse and why I felt this slight sadness when I concluded that the best to do was walk on. I wasn’t only experiencing a sense that I “should” assist this man; I wanted to do so. It’s a philosophical question, but I wanted to know why.
Some might say such urges arise from a desire to prop up our self esteem, to tell ourselves we're good people. Perhaps that’s true, but I have a slightly more optimistic explanation. I believe we’re driven by a deep need to fulfill ourselves, a need for what some would call self-realization. When we ask “What can I do to realize myself?” we often get it wrong, especially when we approach the question entirely from the neck up. But I think the urge to kindness comes from a deep place in our spirit, from a place of wisdom.
I wanted to help the old guy because my spirit knows that to do so would objectively make me larger and move me along the path of my own realization. Self-realization is the soul’s agenda, and kindness is the true means of advancing this agenda.
We are called by our own spirit and by the great Creative Spirit to be the light of the world, because our own self-realization and unfolding is connected to our collective realization and unfolding. Each serves the other, and when we hear this calling over all the inner and outer noise of life, we do, in fact, expand.
It may be difficult to be a light in the world, but it’s made easier for me when I realize that this urge isn’t merely a “good idea.” It’s a calling on my life. More than that, it’s the fulfillment of my spiritual destiny.
It’s the thing I’m created to be, and when I align myself with my deepest purpose I open myself to energies that aren’t available when I’m pursuing something other than this purpose.
As I went about my business and the gentleman with the tray went his way in the opposite direction, I enjoyed the connection between us that was generated by the urge to help him, even though I didn’t act on this urge. Well actually I guess I did act on it in a way; I blessed him silently and wished him well. Maybe he felt it or maybe he didn’t, but something inside me nodded and was pleased by the rightness of it.