The Church is now in the Octave of the Epiphany, which celebrates the recognition of God, the Gentle Redeemer, in the world. Like simple acts of kindness, God becoming one of us, amazingly, can be easily overlooked. But for the poor and for seekers of wisdom, the gentle rule of the Holy Spirit in the world is here to be found and celebrated. Professor Jyoti Bachani, of the School of Economics and Business Administration at Saint Mary’s College, offers living testimony to a world made rich by loving kindness.
We Before Me
A Meditation on Community
By Jyoti Bachani
Like many of my colleagues, I teach working adults in the evenings, on weekends and in off-site and online classes. This limits the time we as colleagues, who serve with the same Lasallian purpose, get to spend with each other face-to-face. Yet, we still cherish our sense of community. How does that sense of community manifest itself on a daily basis? Here is a recent example that might illustrate it in the context of everyday simple acts of how we interact with each other.
Earlier this year, when I wanted to meet a colleague, we coordinated by email to find a time when we both would be on campus. He agreed to meet me in my office, even though his office is on the opposite side of campus from mine. On the appointed day, he sent me another email to let me know that he was running late for our meeting, scheduled for the last half hour of the day. I offered to meet him in his office or to meet another day, if that made it easier because our meeting was important, but not urgent. He said he had to leave for an off-campus meeting immediately after, so he was coming over to keep his commitment, but instead of walking over, will be driving over to makeup time. I decided to make it easier for him by meeting him outside my office building, so that we could chat standing beside his car, in case he couldn’t find a place to park his car again.
Just outside my office building are a few parking spots, either open to all or reserved for the handicapped. As I waited there, I noticed that one of each type was open. A car drove up and the driver rolled down his window to ask me if I was standing there to hold the parking spot. I said, no I wasn’t holding it, and he could park there. I moved slightly away from the sidewalk where I had been standing, and saw another car leaving from the larger parking lot just across the street. It slowed down and President Donahue waved to me from the driver’s seat, motioning to indicate that he would wait for me to cross the road. He assumed that me moving away from my office building on the sidewalk, was going to cross the road. I shook my head to let him know that I was not intending to cross the road, and waved him on to the road to indicate that he could carry on driving without yielding to me.
I felt really good, more than the usual good feeling of being outdoors on a beautiful campus with trees all around. In two minutes, three people had treated me with such high regard, to be considerate of my anticipated needs, and with humility deferring to them: a colleague willing to come across campus to meet me, a stranger offering to let me hold a parking spot even though he had a car and I didn’t, and the President headed home at the end of his workday, yielding to make sure I could cross the road first, if I needed to. This attitude of service where one anticipates and puts the needs of other ahead of one’s own is what makes Saint Mary’s a community for me. This humility is also typified in the kneeling statue of our founder at the heart of the campus. I too was waiting outside only to make it easier for my colleague. It is in giving, that we receive. My friend Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace.org, describes it as “we before me”. When we act in a manner that puts ‘we’ before ‘me’, we exercise our service-muscle and cultivate our community. A community then becomes one where each one looks out for the other and eagerly seeks opportunity to serve, leading to considerate ways of relating.
As I enjoyed this moment, another car drove up to claim the vacant handicapped parking spot. The young man urgently found and placed the handicapped permit on the dash board and left in a mad dash. He had no obvious handicap and my guess is that he was not rushing on a care-giving mission to help a handicapped person either. He reminded me of students rushing to class late. He was hustling to get every little advantage to get through his life’s demands. I silently sent a prayer for his well-being and hoped that may he too have four or more people around him who were able to hold his well being so firmly that he could ease his hustle just enough to claim his ‘normal’ parking spot and may find the time to enjoy the slightly longer walk and maybe even appreciate the beauty of our campus.
I have taken students in my classes to the chapel and have heard them remark how they had never taken the few minutes in their 18 month long program to ever experience the calm and beauty of that space.
Sand Nativity Brother Charles
Saint Mary's Chapel Albert Ahedo & Jacob Turnrose