With three bright smiles, a pink rose and red, we step into McAllen, Texas and into the warm embrace of Sunaina and her twin aunts, Malka and Alka. Over two years ago, four mothers birthed an experiment in love they named Infinite Love. In a city known to most through its US-Mexico border-related headlines, McAllen is home to a burgeoning community of everyday heroes fueled by service, stillness, and-- above all--faith in the human potential for good.
We are swiftly chauffeured to the Infinite Love center, a hidden gem in an inconspicuous office building. Stepping into its bright colored walls, loving touches of ambiance, and vivid paintings done by Vishal, a dear nephew, cousin, and seed of inspiration to the founding family. As we discuss pre-event logistics and set-up, I notice a painting on the wall with the quote, "Out of difficulties grow miracles." Throughout the weekend, we gradually discover the depth the message in the quote conveys.
In 2011, a devastating divorce, a son's paralysis, and a husband's loss to cancer pushed three sisters and a cousin to seek a space for healing. When Vishal passed away from a rare form of cancer that same year, the four matriarchs and their families reflected on how he gave so much of himself to so many--despite the complications and weaknesses brought on by his terminal illness. On February 12, 2012, they decided to honor his spirit by shining love in the world.
And so Infinite Love began.
Little did these four women and their families know all the ripples that would bloom in the process. Through weekly Wednesday meditation gatherings, twice-a-week meals for the homeless, lunch offerings to cancer patients every weekday, monthly guest speakers, and many moments in between, Pooja, Geeta, Alka, Malka, Sunaina, Vik, and many invisible Infinite Love hands and volunteers have tapped into a solace of service. On Saturday night, Geeta hosts an Awakin gathering in her home for 45 folks. We meditate, Nimo offers a few songs, Madhavan sings a soothingly soulful piece with his guitar, and Sunaina stunningly graces us with a couple Sufi songs. We bow our heads in gratitude and continue the evening with an enormously abundant home-cooked meal and many side conversations. At the end of the evening, mouth-watering leftovers are insistently placed in the hand of many guests, and we are left with a sense of openness, grace, curiosity and anticipation for the next day's events.
Sunday afternoon, we gather back at the Infinite Love center. Sunaina, Anushka, Madhavan, and Pooja sweep the grounds with a loving set-up. Malka and Alka handle food and other prep behind the scenes, as volunteers filter in to assist with welcoming, registration, kitchen, and translation. By 4pm, 150 or so folks filter in, and each person is welcomed with a heart pin. We somehow manage to convince Nimo, who usually shies away from solo shares about himself, to talk about his journey and process from Wharton to Wall Street to the Gandhi Ashram and the slum communities, to Empty Hands Music and the present moment. With a depth of humility and heart, he offers his honest reflections and stories from it all.
In introducing a photo of his Ekatva children cleaning the streets, Nimo remarks that a couple hours later, the streets would be littered again. "It's not about cleaning the streets, it's about cultivating that sense of offering in ourselves," he points out.
On the theme of kindness, his carries an air of simple awe as he quotes a sentence 14 year-old Priyanka shared at an education conference, "We don't need teachers, we need education fairies." And how in giving away her prized teddy bear to an elderly woman in a nursing home, she realized, "When your heart tells you to do something for someone else, you can't wait."
He dedicates "Ode to Women" to the four matriarchs behind Infinite Love, and by the end of the evening, the crowd spills over in gratitude. One woman gifts Nimo a "kindness coin"-- an inscribed coin that acknowledges and thanks the recipient for their kindness. Wiping tears from her eyes she says, "I've been holding on to that coin for the last few months." In the next instant, a young child asks for the coin, and Nimo gifts it with the reminder, "When someone does something kind to you, give this to them."
Throughout the afternoon-turned-evening, it's as if we are immersed in a river of open-heartedness, as story after story from across the spectrum emerge in the post-event pocket of conversations. Infinite snacks are served from the kitchen with a solid attentiveness, and people organically offer to carry boxes or take down posters. It's amazing to see how a community whose soil has been nurtured with that kind of selfless service collectively rises to a depth of sharing and vulnerable authenticity that is rare to find in large crowds and events.
Thankfully, it doesn't end at that.
The next day, we join Geeta and Anthony at the local oncology center where Infinite Love volunteers offer lunch to patients every weekday. We enter to find Geeta putting together sandwiches and lunch plates to give the patients. Many of these patients are undergoing chemotherapy treatment and cannot leave their seats for hours at a time. Anthony gives us a tour of the center, and we talk with some of the patients-- learn from their resilience of their perseverance, as well as the attentive presence of the dedicated nurses. It's amazing to watch Geeta channel the loss of her husband to cancer into an outpouring of dedicated service towards these patients, hospital staff and families that come through the clinic doors.
That afternoon, we visit the Sacred Heart Church Community Center, which in the last seven weeks, has transformed into a rest and refuel station for newly immigrated refugees from South and Central America. Staffed by an army of volunteers from Catholic Charities, we have the opportunity to help sort Salvation Army clothes and learn about the recent surge in migration across the US-Mexico border. As families are approved by immigration, they are invited to come through the center for a shower, fresh clothes, food, and a backpack of basic necessities for their journey to whatever relatives or friends await them in near and far corners of the country.
Alma greets us at the desks and gives us an on-the-spot orientation. As we get talking, she invites Nimo to sing a song for everyone, and we leave with the melody of "Being Kind" ringing in our being. Pepe pushes his edge and shares a poem about rediscovering the child inside him, Shawn's search for authenticity engages him deep in conversation, and Sunaina's lightness of spirit carries through as a team of folks take on the quasi-daunting task of organizing piles of shoes for easy-access when the families come through.
The experience juxtaposes hard realities with a softness of heart. We return to the sweet Chugani abode (aka: Pooja and Sunaina's home) and embark on an evening walk through which questions of suffering, privilege, spirituality, social services, and small acts with great love fill the air--interspersed with smiling joggers, heart-pin offerings for children that pass by, and a couple glee-filled dog-petting frenzies. :) All to a backdrop of the ever-present sunset, a grounding reminder of the eons that stretch long before, after, beyond and within our microscopic human existence.
We come home to a warm Mexican meal cooked with love, and roaring humor of cousin Vik, whose edgy wit, humility, and existential reflectiveness shine through his original jokes about the last 8 years of being paralyzed from the waist-down.
Next morning, as we ready to depart McAllen, we are struck by the incredible stream of humanity that we have the blessing to encounter these last couple of days. All throughout, we are infused with small gestures of love-- from a constant abundance of food to Sunaina's homemade offering of chai (though she doesn't drink it herself) to Anthony taking a couple hours out of his full hospital administration schedule to show us around to Eva translating 2 hours straight for all the Spanish-speakers at Sunday's event, and Anushka and Madhavan driving from 4 hours away to fill in the gaps in support throughout the entire weekend, we are blown away by the 100% volunteer-run weaving together of love and life in one of the southern-most tips of the United States.
With a hefty and insistent bag of homemade treats, handwritten card, and piles of hugs, we are left with a lightness of heart and steadiness of spirit; one that comes with the ease of tapping into our fundamental interconnectedness, through the infinite thread of love.