Service Project

Posted on September 11, 2011

A few days ago I had a dream about a bunch of ladies having lunch. Perhaps a boring subject for a blog, but it was a very enlightening lunch. Around a table for maybe 8 or 10 – one of those nice round tables, well-suited for equality of conversation – about 4 of us were sitting. In front of us were paper plates on each of which was a cold pancake and link of sausage, as well as a styrofoam cup with some water in it. I watched as another group of 4 or 5 ladies bustled around serving us, and realized that we were a service project.

The ladies who were serving us didn’t sit with us, or in fact offer anything else, but were chatting together in the kitchen in friendly fashion while they poured themselves iced juice in glasses and pulled other baked goods out there. Their places at our table remained unseated. I watched with bemused interest as they bustled about, cheerily sharing their joy with each other at “doing good.” None of us at the table were eating, or talking, for that matter. We just watched them.

Then a friend, one whose eyes are always sad and tired, one who serves freely and is known for what she gives, came in, quietly apologizing for being late. She was also “one of the served.” I watched her eyes again, eyes that are burned into my memory now, as she settled dispiritedly into this unsought spot on “our side” of the table. I wondered why she was there, just as I wondered why I was there. Strange that a round table should have sides. Strange that anyone should sit at that strange table.

After a moment, one of the “kitchen ladies” came and offered me some nut bread, straight out of the pan. It was uncut, and I looked at her quizzically, and she demonstrated by digging her fingers into the pan and putting a mouthful in her mouth. I think my mouth actually dropped open – I’m sure that’s what that felt like in the dream. It actually woke me up.

It wasn’t that they served food that I don’t even eat – my fare is fresh fruits and vegetables and I eat very little white flour or meat. It was that they had little interest in us, beyond their project, and I wondered that they didn’t notice that none of us were eating. It wasn’t even that they reserved their tastier fare for themselves or even that we were the ones being served, it was just that they didn’t want to eat together or notice that we didn’t want to eat their cold fare.

And still, those sad, tired eyes are looking at me.

I’ve been on both sides of that table that is supposed to be round. I hope in all my years of sitting in one place or another I’ve learned that the most important thing that happens there is the conversation. Little is served in projects where we differentiate ourselves from those we serve. The way we serve is everything. Round tables don’t have sides. I get how important this is as I structure efforts to serve others. Be careful, my spirit warns me. Be nice.

I don’t know that we can always do anything about relieving sad eyes, but if we can, it won’t be food alone that does it. It will be acceptance. It will be the friendly chatter of hope and support and encouragement. It’s what people are hungry for.

It certainly won’t be a cold pancake and sausage link thrown carelessly on a paper plate.

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