Kleshas and Tanhas

ethics morals faiths ideals

Hell No! I Ain’t Gonna Do That

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I feel like the last entries on myexperiences at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries have been abstract. At least,after today’s experience, I can now say that all my past reflections revolvearound emotions. My emotions shared through my relationships with members atMNM appeared to be pinnacle of my experience in this ‘gig’ called servicelearning. Up until today, I thought I had reached this experience-this end ofthe line, you cannot go any further ideal. I felt comfortable and accepted inmy new environment, I thought I was making somewhat of an impact on the peopleI was around, and I was likewise impacted by my experiences at service.
               Inwriting, I feel like using the ultimate phrase “I thought I had seeneverything” puts a cap on what you can follow up with your next essay. Hence, Ihate to use it when I am writing several periodic essays, like service learning;unless, however, I can see the end of writing on that one topic (which I cannotwith service learning.) I am making an exception today with that self-maderule.
The Technique
               I thoughtI had seen everything at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Easing into my routine,I found pleasure from the growth of my relationships. For anyone who might seeMNM or any type of time-with-others service as secondary to physical labor, youreally have not had the pleasure of piecing puzzles together. I was reallyenjoying this Zen-like trance I could enter into when I was around Ms. Shirleyas she told me about the rights and wrongs of society. Today she went on aboutthis newspaper article from the PhiladelphiaInquirer that I read to her. A seventy-two year old man shot his forty-twoyear old neighbor when the police did not arrive after he phoned in hiscomplaint. Ms. Shirley did not like that one bit; consequently, I listened toall the wrongs the world experiences. Her least favorite crime was apparentlyrobbery as she repeatedly mentioned how jewelry shops happen to be robbed whenpeople need money.   
               Butsomething happened today that I was not expecting. I was just starting to settleinto my newly formed comfort bubble. It was massage day. I admit that the firstthing that crossed my mind was, “Oh great, I really could use one for my soreshoulders,” as I imagined a massage-circle form; everyone was included. Nope. Icould not have been any more wrong. As service learners, we somehow became parttime masseuses. Gloves did not serve as a recompense for this odd, seeminglyout of place activity.
My mind split over what happenednext. Half of me thought this was incredibly weird, for lack of a better term,to just randomly start giving someone I knew for less than a month a massage.Massages are intimate. And after a certain age, when one reaches some level ofmaturity, you do not randomly line up for massages as teens do at summer campsand sleep overs. So I felt a little out of place for two reasons when it wassprung on us to get gloves and cocoa butter; the immediate intimacy and my precedentabout massages.
The Product
My second, more grounded half thoughtthat this was the epitome of service learning. Intimacy. My mind drifted to thecleansing of feet in Catholic tradition from John 13’s Gospel. “Afterthat, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet,drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13: 5.)In the recent past, when I volunteered at Camp Holiday Trails back home inVirginia, I could easily draw biblical parallels to my service. Now, for somereason, I find it border-line hokey to draw out those parallels. Maybe it isthe result of too many comparative religion courses that have opened my eyes tosee that Christianity is not the sole mission-oriented faith. It could also bethe consequence of returning to a heavily Catholic-dominated student populationthat helps facilitate the above misconception I have/had; I feel like I playdevil’s advocate too often when I hear the Bible being thrown around like sometextbook reference everyone knows.
Yet, as I rubbed the lotion into Ms. Gladys’ gnarled hands,I connected to something more than skin deep. I could see actual pain in herhands. And while the concepts of emotions and relationships are not tangible,(yet, both their objects are,) I found that physicality permeated the remainingdistance between me as “servicer” and my “service.” The emotions create,nourish, and hinder the relationship which is then escalated to an incrediblyintimate level. Even in the simplest act of a hand massage. Just to pull somenon-Christian connections into this deeper formof service; I think of yoga’s notion within the word yoga: its literal definition is “yoking.” I see that two sets ofemotions are yoked together through physical touch to form a deeperrelationship. Similarly, isn’t the term islamtransliterated as submission? Maybe it is a stretch to connect that withhumility-both of which I needed in order to massage Ms. Gladys. Confucianism:deep respect for elders.


I do not know how, since I had gloves on, the scent ofcocoa butter lingers as I type this. I admit again that I am still shaken upfrom the forced portion of me having to suddenly perform physical service.Nevertheless, it was a learning experience that I am continuing to think abouteach time I catch a waft of lotion.   

Written by Jack Viere

October 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

One Response

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  1. Incredible. I loved it Jack! It's awesome how you can move beyond the “ickiness” of touching, even massaging someone you don't really know, and actually connect with God through your humility check. I'm so proud of you 🙂


    October 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm

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