Being of Service


One of the universal acknowledgements that seems to be uppermost on the minds of everyone I meet these days, is this idea that we were put on this earth to be of service to each other. It doesn't really matter what your point of reference, validation or opinion of that statement is; the fact is that the idea itself serves to stimulate us to at least begin to think about what it means to be of service.

"There but for the grace of circumstance goes me." There's an element of judgment and relief in that thought. . ."

I've been wrestling with the idea, in one specific instance, for the past six years. I live in downtown Long Beach, California. I have a wondrous view of the Pacific Ocean from one balcony and an equally sweeping city view from another. I live well, want for very little, and wake up every morning filled with gratitude. One of the very first people I "met" when I moved here six years ago was a homeless woman, who appears to be my age. Our wordless encounters consist of warily respecting each other's experience of life and always avoiding real eye contact.

We "see" each other at least once a month, on the streets near my home; often in front of an accommodating local branch of an international business, where she is welcomed to use the bathroom facilities.

She is proud and organized and well protected from the elements—as well as she can be considering the fact that she seeks no shelter as far as I can tell, and always, always, maintains her cleanliness and self respect.

The thought that often comes to my mind, no matter how hard I try to refute it is, "There but for the grace of circumstance goes me." There's an element of judgment and relief in that thought, and somehow I know that she knows that's how I see her.

The other thought comes to mind is, "There must be some way I can be of service to her." That thought is genuine and rooted in compassion, but nothing ever surfaces that seems adequate, or that would not infringe on her right to live her life as she chooses. Because somehow I know that no matter what precipitated her current status of homelessness; she has come to terms with her life as it is, and has managed to make the best of what it is at this time.

So I've continued the ritual of silent acknowledgment, sometimes offering a timid smile in hopes that one day something might happen to give me some insight to what more I can do. And then, just last month, I was entering the business where she uses the facilities, and she was standing outside, leaning on the shopping basket that holds all of her belongings. Her head was down as usual, but I knew that she saw me and, as usual, I offered a tentative smile...and then it happened. With the slightest, almost imperceptible movement, she accepted the smile and with her unspoken acknowledgement declared that perhaps, just perhaps I was worthy of smiling at her. Because this time, for the first time, it was finally a smile of pure friendship, without judgment or pity. Then I felt her give me a little of herself, a glance of recognition, and suddenly I felt whole and connected and I believe she felt the same.

"Being of service means we have to come to each other in a state of mind that allows us to see each other without contingency."

In that brief awesome moment, I experienced what it truly means to be of service to each other. I'm not sure words can do justice to that feeling, because it was more an experience of energy flowing between us, rather than around us as had been the case in all our previous encounters. And then, without any other interaction, we went our separate ways to our appointed tasks knowing that something had happened, something had changed in our relationship and for now, that was all we needed to know.

Being of service doesn't mean we have to save each other, or devote our every spare moment to "being there" for our friends and family and relationships. Being of service doesn't have a "form" of any kind. Being of service means we have to come to each other in a state of mind that allows us to see each other without contingency. We have to give of ourselves without agenda or expectation. And then, we have to learn to be okay with the fact that no matter how well-intentioned, our proposed "gift" may not always be acceptable or desired.

The change in my understanding of what it means to be of service was manifested for me yet again, just a few days ago. It was early in the morning, just before sunrise. I was up, waiting for the day when it occurred to me that it was the perfect time of day to water the plants on my balconies. I was draining the water can on the last plant on the city view balcony when I felt the presence of my "friend" and I turned to see her, five stories below, waking up and beginning her day. It was the first time I had seen her from my balcony. I closed my screen door in an expression of her right to privacy, and went inside to the shelter of my home. For the first time in six years I felt at peace about her. Because now I truly "see" her, and the only thing I feel is gratitude for the blessings in both our lives.


©2012 Tracey E. Carruthers
Note: Tracey E. Carruthers is an executive coach and founder of may "reprint" copies of Clues You Can Use Articles on-line as long as they remain complete and unaltered including this note. Please send links to your reprints below.

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