When I go to the local bank I always enjoy seeing a teller named Emily, a delightful retired elementary school teacher with a kind word for everyone. One morning while I was making a deposit at Emily’s window, the shrieking siren of a passing emergency vehicle pierced the bank.
“That’s the first one today,” Emily noted.
“You count them?” I asked her.
“I always say a prayer as they go by,” she answered.
I was touched by Emily’s use of the emergency. For many of us, a siren is an annoyance. Or we shrivel to think that someone might be hurt or in trouble. But Emily uses emergencies to practice healing. She is not just a bank teller. She is a teller of blessing.
I used to complain about the news, which is so often negative. Then I heard Michael Beckwith mention that he considers the news to be his prayer list. Hmmm. Is the news something to worry about, or is it a platform upon which to practice holding a higher vision?
New York philanthropist Milton Petrie scanned the newspaper every morning to see whom he could help. One day he read about a beautiful young model who had been viciously attacked by thugs hired by the boyfriend she had left. The article showed heartrending photographs of three long hideous scars that ran the length of both cheeks and her forehead; hundreds of stitches were required to put her face back together. A Venus had become a Frankenstein.
Moved by the girl’s plight, Mr. Petrie called the model to his office and told her that he would give her $20,000 a year for the rest of her life. Thrilled to receive such kindness in the wake of her anguish, she had numerous surgeries that restored her skin and beauty to near-perfection. As I watched her being interviewed on television, I noticed an additional glow not obvious in her pre-attack model photos. She had been the recipient of grace.
I saw a documentary about cosmetic surgeons who donated their services to help people who had become disfigured, primarily women who had been beaten. In each case there was a moment when the doctor removed the bandages, and the woman looked in the mirror to see her new face for the first time. All the recipients burst into tears. A few hours of the surgeons’ time led to a lifetime of betterment for their patients. These doctors were tellers of a new tale.
A Course in Miracles teaches that every act is either an expression of love or a call for love. All antisocial or aberrant behavior is a call for love. We do not heal by punishment. We heal by validation. In a certain African tribe, when a person commits a crime, that person is not punished. Instead, he or she is called to the center of the circle of tribespeople, where everyone chants that person’s unique song to him or her. The tribe realizes that the cure for social ills is not chastisement. It is connection to self, community, and spirit.
Business also has a new tale, if we are willing to tell it. Two basic attitudes underlie all business transactions: (1) What can I get? or (2) How can I help? Ultimately, only the attitude of service will be rewarding. My mentor, Carla Gordan, coached many people by telephone. One day while visiting her home I saw the phone she used for coaching. On the back of the handset she had taped a small reminder note to herself. It said, “How can I help?”
Many people are suffering in the world as we know it. Ian Maclaren said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes even apparently happy people are struggling with issues you don’t see. Kindness — not intellectual prowess, financial stability or worldly power — is the most valuable resource. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.”
I used to think that people who advertised themselves as gurus, healers, teachers and enlightened beings were the great souls on earth. As I grow in experience, I consider people who demonstrate kindness to be the most advanced souls. Waitresses, chambermaids, van drivers and custodians are among the holiest people I know. They care about making the world a better place more than what they can get for themselves. Helping others brings them greater reward than acquiring more stuff or becoming enlightened. Many of these hidden saints have never attended a self-improvement seminar, but they improve the lives of everyone they touch by being present with them.
Albert Schweitzer said, “…The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
Life is not a series of opportunities to get somewhere. Life is a series of opportunities to be somewhere. Difficulties are not oppressions from a dark source. They are invitations to be a light source. Bank teller Emily has more change to offer than I can count.