I walked into the village schoolyard in Rajastan, India shortly after the Ahmedabad earthquake. They were two years into a drought. This place, 13 timezones away, was about as far away from my home and lifestyle in California as was humanly possible.
I had been pestered by many other children on the streets of India, and was expecting to fend them off. However, when I felt a young girl’s hand close around my finger, my heart melted. I looked down at her, and she responded with the most loving, happy eyes I could imagine. Tugging me across the schoolyard, she overflowed with the authority of innocence. Despite the poverty and adversity, I saw the same vitality and jubilation I see in my granddaughters’ eyes.
She led me to the lunch area, where the children sat, patiently waiting in lines with their bowls. I had the honor of serving them each a ladle of milk. As I did, each of them looked up to thank me with their eyes in the Indian custom of drishti. After about three of these encounters, I was having difficulty keeping my tears out of the milk. They were tears of the joy I saw reflected in their uplifted faces. But they were also tears of realization that humanity has such a power of giving.
Some things we can receive only by giving.
They were also tears of recognition of how much more wonderful the world would be if everyone could feel this way. What if, as the Dali Lama suggests, we would measure our wealth by our ability to give? What if the world could see that even in the most dire circumstances, happiness, love, and peace can happen?
I possessed unimaginable economic wealth compared to these people. The teacher would have to work three months to buy the sandals I was wearing. Yet they were giving something to me.
Was there some way to communicate this personal transformation to the rest of the world? If everyone felt this way, the world would surely change, too.
Tears of joy soon turned to tears of sorrow at the next stop of my tour-turned-pilgrimage. A young mother was holding a two-pound, two week old premature baby. A doctor stood on one side, trying to get the baby to the hospital for free medical treatment. Her husband stood on the other side, glowering at us. He was opposed to trying to save her life, because she was a girl. Girl-children are liabilities. Having two daughters and two granddaughters, I was speechless at the implications of his behavior.
She held her baby as if it were a statue. I had thought that maternal love was a hallmark of humanity, yet somehow it had been drained out of her. She was merely doing a duty. What she was doing to her baby, she was also doing to herself. I imagine a little bit of her died later that afternoon when her baby died.
What happened to me? Could I witness these scenes in the grand drama of life, then file them away as hit-and-run touristic souvenirs?
No, they were they calling me to Do Something.
Photos and Text by Tom Munnecke Feb 28, 2001