I am often struck by how much I have in comparison to others.
When I told friends I was flying to Switzerland for 2 days and then to Israel for 9 to see my family, some listened quietly and wished me a good trip. I know they have little money and can only wonder what flying is like, what Switzerland and Israel are like, the latter’s beaches, the holy city of Jerusalem, the Galilee up north, the hot desert down south or the Dead Sea.
I have a home while many others don’t, or else, like the immigrant families I work with, must squeeze tight with other families to save on rent. I have worked at things I love for many years while others labored at unimaginative tasks. I have a car, a computer and phone (old, I admit). I provide for my dog, Aussie (not so old).
The old Buddhist monks lived as simply as the poorest families they met and that’s my tradition, but I am a lay person with a home, an office surrounded by birdfeeders, and a wooden Kwan-yin who seems to take care of all creatures, only more of some than others. Fully live your life, She says, don’t apply standards such as rich or poor. Nevertheless, I’ve always felt restless about having the lifestyle I have, as if I’m inhabiting a planet different from the one I should be inhabiting.
I recently spent two days in Bern, Switzerland, with my friends, Barbara and Roland Wegmueller. As I wrote earlier, other friends joined us and we were immensely happy to see each other, exchange gifts and stories of our lives. I’m sure that the reason I’m not pessimistic or depressed about this world is that I am close to changemakers, the best people you can find, who’ve taken vows to help others in the spirit of the One Body, one family, that you are me and I am you. We talked a great deal about the Zen Peacemaker Order and how to better support its members who all do this work.
During this visit I thought a lot about my hosts, Barbara and Roland, and how they have shared their home with so many people over the years. For me, they are exemplars of how to make good use of our relative abundance to serve others.
For years they hosted circles of activists in their home. As Syrian refugees began flooding Switzerland, they started hosting them, too. I still remember being in their house when one of their sons came home.
“Jonathan, next week a Syrian family is coming to stay here. We may need your room.”
Jonathan didn’t bat an eye. “For how long?”
Barbara shrugged. “Until they get housing from the government.”
Jonathan also shrugged and went upstairs. He’d heard it all before.
“My children would tell their friends that we were crazy,” she told me, “that we were not like other parents. Their friends agreed, but they always loved to come here.”
They came to the Wegmuellers’ home because here they found not just hospitality but also love. Not just food but also love. Not just parental acknowledgment but also love.
“My children always befriended the kids who were lonely in school, who no one wanted to talk to because they were different,” she told me. There was always plenty of home-cooked food and drink, a room for someone to stay in if there was trouble back home. In addition, there was a meditation room where everyone—Christians, Buddhists, Muslims—came for peace and silence.
I know just a little about their work, but over the years I had glimpses: Bringing into their home refugee women with Swiss women to see how one could support the other, the former showing the latter how to cook Middle Eastern food, the latter providing opportunities for the former to study Swiss German; the joint celebration of different holidays; helping refugees and their children to find work; Interceding on their behalf with government agencies to make sure they get benefits. Fostering children and adopting entire families to help them adjust to a new culture and language.
Whenever I visit Barbara and Roland I hear of a new project they’re involved in—connections with Guerilla Yoga to raise money for some good work; sponsorship of a film documenting the identification of casualties of the war in Bosnia out of bone fragments (the film-maker lived in their home for a long time); an art show exhibiting and selling beautifully sewn fabrics made by a group of women in Afghanistan hoping to make money for their families out of their sewing; a social worker in Rwanda whom they met at our bearing witness retreat there many years ago and whose work they still support a long time later, and on and on.
They have shown me how one can work out of abundance, not poverty of mind. Yes, they have their home, but it has steadily grown because they’re ready to bring the entire world inside. Rather than waste time worrying about why they have more than others, they seem to have stretched every Swiss Franc they have to reach as many needs as possible, accompanied by happiness and laughter, grandchildren, dogs and turtles, sharing joy and humor, the immense generosity they personify.
In that spirit I’d like to once again ask you to buy a Christmas gift for an immigrant child. You can find the Amazon list here. I heard from two people that this time our list contains some expensive gifts, over $25, which we didn’t post before. I can evoke inflation, but I take the caution to heart and will make sure this doesn’t happen next time.
At the same time, children asked for presents their parents can’t afford to give, so if you can respond, that would be great. If not, that’s fine, too. If some are left unpurchased in the end, I will look to possibly cover them from the account I have for immigrant families. Whatever you choose to do, please do out of a sense of abundance, freedom, and joy.
Thank you. You can find that list here.
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