Written by Audrey Lin
We enter the room with full, warm bellies from an abundant deep dish pizza dinner, complete with a couple thick heart-shaped pies! They were gifted from afar by a giant-hearted volunteer who simply wishes to "serve the servants", and we were all feeling the hearty love that emerges through the transmission of food. As the saying goes, "Food + Love = Prasad".
It's Saturday evening of a weekend-long reunion retreat of 40 volunteers and friends of Manav Sadhna, a Gandhi Ashram-based non-profit dedicated to uplifting slum communities through love. After a full day of discussions, stories, and break-out sessions, we dissolve into an evening of Empty Hands with stories from various siblings of the service family, and songs from Nimo.
Ajay and Anjali welcome us with warm stories of Ajay's full-circle journey from rambunctious youth with missing t-shirt buttons to service-hearted volunteer coordinator. Joserra shares with bright laughter and love about how the noble friendship he tapped into in India manifests with his community in Spain-- from an intentional living house to a Peace Pole excursion and beyond. Nimo sings "To My People" and then introduces Dev with the image of two empty suitcases. Before flying out to spend eight days at Manav Sadhna, Dev had told the coordinators there, "I have two empty suitcases. What can I bring for everyone?" (Turned out they needed 60 knives, which he ended up bringing, and made for a funny incident with the Mumbai airport security.)
Dev then goes on to offer his view of the kitchen as the heart (rather than hidden labor) of a place, and how he received the nourishing love of dear sister Kamalaben in India, who runs the Manav Sadhna kitchen and is known for her legendary afternoon chai. In the spirit of kindness, Roshnia, Ruthvi, Shital, and Anjali fold colorful origami hearts and pass them out to the audience. As Nimo sings Being Kind, we are met with a chorus of literal paper hearts soaring across the room, echoing the lyrics, "Throw your hearts up". :)
In the coattails of kindness, we celebrate the strength of femininity, as Jayshri's sweet words of gratitude paint a soothing portrait of her grandmother-- a woman who was married at the age of five and single-handedly did everything in her capacity to offer her children the best education. After Ode to Women, the topic transitions to non-judgement, and Audrey talks about the all-encompassing love of dear friend Pancho, an astro-biologist, peace activist, and citizen of the world who lives his life as an experiment in truth. Shital's grace and humility stirs our souls as she discloses her own encounters with the arbitrariness of social recognition and achievement, and how that propelled her to simplify her ambitions and learn from her father's integrity and understated leadership.
Before the last song of the evening, we are silenced by the Laura's moving tears and sincerity as she shares her story of how the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks indirectly led her and her daughter to find solace in service several years later. She shares the power of prayer, and how her faith brought her to Pakistan, where she open-heartedly experienced an outpouring of generosity through a transformative series of interfaith encounters. In the wake of her stirring share, Nimo offers the Grateful music video, whose uplifting tones move several folks to dance with their hearts on their sleeves.
We close the evening with a circle of silent gratitude, followed by a sweet ice cream surprise, small pockets of connection and conversation, and a collective, effortless room clean-up-- one that springs forth when the heart is full and the soul sings with a transcendence of our fundamental interconnectedness.