Guri and I offer food to a local monastery every week. Last Tuesday, as I was dropping off the food, Rev. Heng Sure and I were catching up outside the doorstep when two Spanish speaking men showed up. It seemed like they had spent the night in the streets. One of them smelled of alcohol.
Initially, they asked for change to catch a train but Rev. Heng Sure tried to explain how he's a monk and didn't carry any money. However, they just spoke Spanish and our vocabulary extended only to 'gracias'.
Something about them moved both of us, to the point that both our wet eyes filled with compassion. Its hard to say precisely why, since none of us are strangers to such situations. Nonetheless, Rev. Heng Sure goes inside to get a brown bag filled with apples, some vegan cookies and a loaf of bread -- as I continue my attempts of explaining how the monastery operates in the field of non-financial currencies.
The drunk fellow asks me if he can paint the wall or something, anything. Then he asks if he can trim the trees for 50 cents. It broke my heart, when he said that. He insisted on giving the gift of his labor, for a mere 50 cents. I knew they were desperate, but as things go, it happened to be the day when I didn't have my wallet on me.
After a few minutes, while I'm hugging them, I tell Rev. Heng Sure that I'll bid them goodbye. After offering the brown bag of food to our Mexican brothers, he departs for his afternoon ceremonies.
Deep down inside, the encounter didn't feel like an accident. While I had nothing material to give them, I wanted to offer them something -- perhaps a faint understanding of the field of blessings that they had stumbled upon. Having offered food to the monastery every week, for many years, I knew this from my experience but just didn't know how to explain it in Spanish. I would have to rely on the language of love.
As I continued my best imitations of meditation postures and sharing goodwill and laughs and hugs, something shifted. I must've landed upon some key word. Blessos. Church. Or something. The drunk man, who was previously repeating his plea for trimming the tree for 50 cents, now of all sudden says, "Oh, then, I do it for free." His buddy looks super shocked by this suggestion.
He didn't have anything and he offered. Whole heartedly.
From a practical standpoint, his offering couldn't be received -- but that didn't matter. He offered. Service doesn't start when you have something to give, but when you have nothing left to take. In that moment, I knew that my friend was moved by that kind of service. What a glorious gift -- for himself, for me and for the world.
I walk down a block with them, as they carry their brown bags with big smiles on their faces now. As I open my car door, I remember that Guri keeps this little sachet of coins for parking meters. "Hold on, hold on," I say excitedly. I empty out those coins in their cupped hands, that now looked like an alms bowl to me.
They smile, and thank me in the true language of love -- silence.
I get in my car with a tear in my eye. I went to give food to the monks, and left feeling blessed. Just another Tuesday.