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Last week some of the Baha’is in my community went to our town’s new homeless shelter. We went there to accept a certificate that honored the Baha’is for serving the homeless, because several of the members of our community had prepared food for the homeless for many years.
One of the staff members, a kind, enthusiastic woman named Pinky, presented us with a nice plaque and gave us a tour of the new building.
“Of course!” said another staff member. The mother and her boys sat down at a table next to us, and the oldest of the boys, maybe eight or nine, dug a plastic bag filled with one-dollar bills out of his pocket, and laid it on the table.
“What’s this?” the staffer said, smiling.
“Money I made pulling weeds,” the boy said shyly. He explained that he had gone from house to house in his neighborhood, asking people if they would give him a dollar for pulling all the weeds in their yards. Anyone who has pulled weeds knows how much work that money represented.
The boy’s two younger brothers and his mother looked on seriously, and said nothing. Dressed cleanly but not expensively, you could tell they were not a wealthy family. Nobody beamed with pride at the boy’s sacrifice, and clearly he expected no praise. His mother seemed to simply expect that her sons would naturally think of others before themselves.
It appeared that the plastic bag held maybe twenty-five or thirty dollar bills. I looked at the cash, and then I looked at the boy’s face, and then tears welled up in my eyes.
The purity of his motivation moved me deeply. I could see, reflected in his young and unlined face, the simple spiritual goodness of his sacrificial act. I could see that he expected nothing in return. I could see that he knew what it meant to be poor, and knew that he had a basic human connection with others, and truly understood how to serve humanity.
I instantly recalled my own boyhood, and the money I made with my own labor pulling weeds and mowing lawns and delivering newspapers. I realized that I couldn’t remember ever giving any of that money away to someone who needed it more than me, and wished, no, yearned, that I could have had that altruistic experience.
When the family got up to leave, I wanted to say something to them.
“That was so kind and inspiring,” I told the mother. “You must be enormously proud of your sons.”
“Thank you. Yes,” she said. I thought I saw some wetness in her eyes, too.
Then I turned to the boys. “What a remarkable example you’ve given us today of service to humanity,” I said.
The boys looked up at me.
“Say thank you, boys,” the mother said.
“Thank you,” they chorused.
When they left I thought of these two passages from the Baha’i writings about service to others as worship:
Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 176-177.
…I ask God that His confirmations may encompass you, that your hearts may become radiant, that your eyes become illumined through witnessing the signs of God, that your ears hearken to the anthems of heaven, that your faces be set aglow with the radiant light of the Word of God. May you all be united, may you be agreed, may you serve the solidarity of mankind. May you be well-wishers of all humanity. May you be assistants of every poor one. May you be nurses for the sick. May you be sources of comfort to the broken in heart. May you be a refuge for the wanderer. May you be a source of courage to the affrighted one. Thus, through the favor and assistance of God may the standard of the happiness of humanity be held aloft in the center of the world and the ensign of universal agreement be unfurled. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 425.