I thought the faint but persistent aftertaste of guilt I felt everytime was something everyone felt after community service. I remember just having finished a shift in a local soup kitchen and returning to campus when the feeling once again began. I didn’t understand, after all, I had just spent hours giving. I had carefully pushed food onto the conveyor belt of plastic trays, maintaining a smile. I attempted to make eye contact above whichever glass, wood, or subconscious barrier separated me from “them”, and it was either averted or so forcefully matched that I was the averter. Despite feeling awkward, I had bused tables and cleaned afterwards.
When we reflected, instead of this “light” feeling everyone seemed to agree on or the vocal pats on the back from “doing good” for “someone who needed it”, I just felt arrogant and guilty. Had these few hours officially made me a “good person”?
As I am beginning to put into words here, service is a mutual action. It is not a higher hand reaching down for another, it is two hands held side by side. My earlier problem with serving was accepting the hierarchy of helping someone who was in some way, below me. When I thought I had to “give” my service, then, I was subconsciously agreeing with this structure.
This notion of two hierarchies has been completely dispelled at Ahmedabad. We have been served every night by a series of people holding bowls and with each spoonful, bending to our plates. It has been much different, much kinder and easier to swallow than being served by perhaps a waiter at a restaurant. When I had the opportunity to return the act in Seva Cafe or during our final dinner, I saw food differently. I realize it can be an act of gratitude, welcome, or friendship. I neither felt “served” nor belittled as a server.
I felt refreshed and communal, and dedicated to recreating this feeling when I return.